Monday, 20 May 2013

Artful Artichokes

Carciofini Piccante al' Arancia e Menta con Insalata di Spelta & Verdure
Spicy, Baby Artichokes with Orange & Mint on Spelt & Vegetable Salad

And yes, even if I do say so myself, this dish IS almost a work of art! Not only the combination of flavors and textures is wonderful, but of course also the incredible colors, not to mention the delicious aroma. Oh yes- culinary art! But not of the squiggles and dots of sauce variety... My kind of food art! The kind that satisfies your hunger and you would like to actually serve your friends!

This dish was my second experience cooking with spelt and I have to say I am liking it's nutty, chewy deliciousness more and more! Together with some basic diced vegetables, plenty of mint and parsley, fresh orange zest and juice and sprinkle of chili at the end, this made for a great, complex tasting but easy to make treat! Oh and those tender baby artichokes? Well! I don't think there is much that needs to be said there!

Although it is not really necessary, I soaked the spelt for an hour before cooking- it made it softer and chewier from the start and reduced the time it would need to cook with the vegetables... which would otherwise have cooked down to pulp by the time the spelt would otherwise have been ready.

So, once it had soaked and was soft and swollen to almost twice it's size, I added the spelt, together with some finely chopped onion, celery and carrot to a saucepan, added a little crushed garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and a bay leaf and began everything frying. Once the onion became translucent, I added  enough water to cover the spelt and vegetables and reduced the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes. After a few minutes, the water had cooked away, meaning that the broth created from the vegetables had been soaked up by the spelt, which was just perfect!

Whilst the spelt simmered, I prepared the artichokes by cutting away the top third of each, trimming down the base and plucking away the tough outer leaves. I then cut them into quarters and removed the "choke" from the inside, with one small diagonal cut... and all of those really fine fibers lifted out very easily. I sprinkled them with lemon juice in order to keep them from oxidizing and becoming dark and then popped them into my steamer for 10-15 minutes until they were soft and tender.

By now the spelt was finished and was able to cool off whilst I prepared the artichokes. Whilst a little olive oil heated-up in my frying pan, I added plenty of fresh mint and parsley, finely chopped and full of flavor to the spelt. I also added 3-4 nice strips of orange peel which I first boiled for 3-4 minutes to eliminate any bitterness and also to make them nice and soft, which I cut into fine, colorful and delicious shreds- yum, yum, yum! Together with a little olive oil, a squeeze of orange juice and some salt and pepper, the spelt was now ready and delicious looking mighty fine!

I sautéed the artichokes in the hot olive oil, seasoning with salt, a pinch of sugar and the tiniest hint of cinnamon. It only took 2-3 minutes until they were golden brown, then out they came and onto the cool spelt "salad" they went. I drizzled them with tiny bit of orange juice, sprinkled them with red chili flakes and scattered the last of the parsley, mint and orange zest on top... and a fantastic supper was served! Minty, wholesome, easy and refreshing, this was a great Summer dish. Now come on Mr. Weatherman! And send us some sunshine!

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