Saturday, 28 May 2011

Oh Risotto!

Risotto allo Zafferano con Carciofini 
Saffron Risotto with Baby Artichokes

 Today I finally managed to get to the indoor market for the first time since my vacation... I sure have missed it! Such a wonderful selection of the most amazing ingredients from all four corners of the globe- in such an ugly building! 

Still, Frankfurt's indoor market is second to none and always top of my list when I hit the city streets at the weekend. I picked up a number of lovely fresh fruits and veggies- but it was the baby artichokes that caught my eye first of all! Yum! It was love at first sight and I knew that the two of us would have a dinner date to remember...

This is a really simple dish- but it is elegant and satisfying and has an undeniable element of "wow!" to it. It is also the kind of meal you can half-prepare in advance and have bubbling in the oven whilst you sip on a cocktail with friends and act cool. And let's face it... if you fix them a dinner like this, then you ARE a pretty cool dude (or dude-ette) after all! 

Start off by preparing the artichokes. This is a lot easier than you may think. Trim down the stems and peel away the outer layer. Pull off the larger outer-leaves and trim away the tops of the artichokes generously as they are always woody and much too tough to eat.

Cut the artichokes in half and you will see the "choke" at the center. This can easily be removed by cutting a "v" shaped chunk out of the middle. Now dip the cut surface of the artichokes into some lemon juice to stop them oxidizing and going brown. Prepare a simple vegetable stock and boil the artichokes in it for 20 minutes. The artichokes will be tender and succulent by then and will have given a wonderful flavor to the stock. For the risotto itself, you will need to make a classic "sofritto" of onion, celery and carrot. Finely chop these and fry together with a little finely chopped bacon in a saucepan. Now add the Arborio rice and make sure it also gets coated in the fat from the bacon. A good splash of white wine will help free all of the good flavors that will have accumulated at the bottom of your saucepan- and a nice splash for yourself will help free your cooking inhibitions and let you enjoy yourself more- so this is a good point to pour yourself a nice cold glass! 
Now add a little sliced garlic and a good pinch of saffron. I don't like to fry the garlic in this case, as I feel it tastes sweeter and milder if it gently boils along with the rice. Season with salt, pepper, a few chili flakes and proceed to cook in the accustomed manner, adding the stock ladle-by-ladle and stirring until it is absorbed my the rice and so on...

After around 15 minutes you can add a last, good ladle full of stock and turn off the heat. Add a good pat of butter and a little grated parmesan, a good pinch of chopped parsley, and pour into an oven-proof dish. We are going to finish this off in the oven, so that the artichokes come back up to temperature... and also, so that the final ingredient has a chance to cook and give our dish the bit of muscle it needs to make it really good. Some good-old crispy bacon!

Arrange your artichoke halves on top of the rice and add a few pieces of bacon randomly- don't get carried away and overdo it- just enough to look decorative. Cover with foil and finish the cooking time at a moderate heat- another 20 minutes or so should be enough- you will have to try it out and see how it is going. If necessary, you can always carefully add a little stock if it is looking dry.  When the rice is cooked, remove the foil and give that bacon a quick blast from the broiler to crisp it up. The juices from the bacon will give the risotto a gently smokey flavor and the added crunch will give a great contrast in texture.

I like to serve mine with grated, salted ricotta cheese, but you can use any seasoned cheese that you like. Give it a good grinding of chili flakes and you are ready for dinner! Although there is a white wine used in making this dish and although it is so light and harmless looking- it does pack quite a punch in the flavor department, which is why I had a nice glass of Corvo with mine. A nice full- bodied Sicilian... just like me!

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