Friday, May 27, 2011

Artichoke Risotto

When people ask me what my favorite thing to cook is, I never think twice: Risotto!
This one is so full of flavor, I think it is one of my favorites.
Artichoke can be a little headache to work with but it is not difficult. I usually remove the petals, cut it in four. Remove the hairy chokes with a pairing knife or a melon baller. Keep a bowl of cold water with lemon juice aside and put the clean pieces of artichoke in it so they won't get dark. The stalks are edible, just peel the outer skin.
You are going to make a herb pesto and keep it in the fridge. You can do it hours ahead.
Here we go:

1 medium bunch fresh basil – leaves removed from stems
8 springs fresh Italian parsley – stems removed
1 large garlic clove – skinned and left whole
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (use microplane grater)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and keep it in a container with some plastic film covering it or a thin layer of olive oil on the surface so it doesn't turn brown.

For the Risotto:

3 large artichokes in large pieces, (slices or cubes) well rinsed to remove all chokes.
4 cups water
1 chicken stock cube or vegetable stock. 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion – chopped       
2 large garlic cloves – finely chopped or pressed
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup of Arborio rice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Reggiano parmesan

Boil the artichoke pieces in 4 cups of water for 6 minutes. Drain the artichokes and keep them aside, saving the water they were cooked. Heat a wide heavy-bottomed pan over high heat. Add the olive oil and onion, stir well and sauté for 3 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, give it a couple stirs, and add the rice, mixing it well to coat with the the olive oil. Add the white wine and stir well until the rice absorbs the wine.
Add the stock cube to the water you cooked the artichokes, mix well, and start to ladle the broth into the rice, little by little, without stopping to stir, after 8 minutes add the artichokes, and keep stirring and adding broth. after 15 minutes start trying the rice to see if it;s all dente or to your desired texture. ( you may need a little extra broth or even just water) When it is cooked to your liking, (it should take 17 to 20 minutes) add the butter and parmesan, give it a vigorous stir and turn of the heat. Adjust the salt if necessary.
Stir in the pesto (add half, taste, and then add more to your liking) Serve immediately.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Salt is such an interesting mineral. It is essential for human life yet can be harmful in excess. Its composition is mainly Chloride and Sodium, and it is involved in regulating the water content in the body. It is one of the oldest, most ubiquitous food seasonings and has been also used to preserve food. Salt was an essential commodity in the early days. Most of the ancient civilizations used salt as a form of trade. For wine, wood, glass, dye and other luxuries. 
The word salary comes from salt (Salarium) It referred to the money paid to Roman soldiers for the puchase of salt.
The harvest of salt from the surface of Xiechi Lake in China dates back to at least 6000 BC, making it one of the oldest verifiable saltworks.
Since cooking and stones are my favorite things. salt has a special place in my heart. I think it really enhances the flavors of food and who knew, it can also be beautiful and a collector's item!!
Culinary salts generally come either from the oceans or from solid underground deposits of ancient seas.
Sensory scientists have found that beyond supplying its own taste, salt in small amounts enhances our perception of sweetness and sourness while suppressing bitterness, a talent that helps balance the flavor of everything from brussels sprouts and grapefruit to caramel and chocolate and coffee. It brings out the flavor of food by helping expel its volatile molecules, so there’s more aroma to fill our noses.
There was a big boom in salt sales and production recently. You can find so many varieties of salt in the gourmet section of every supermarket. Black or red, from Hawaii, pink from Himalaya or Bolivia, all the delicate salt crystals from many regions in France, coarse salt from Portugal and Brazil, and wonderful salts from England, Australia, Bali, Pakistan, Spain amongst others. Not to mention the flavored salts, mixed with herbs and spices.
How about collecting salt?? 
Halite is natural salt. There are beautiful specimens to be found all over the world. My favorite locations are New Mexico, Searles Lake, in California,  France and Germany. There are some nice ones from Italy too.
Here is a sample of how beautiful salt can be:
A purple faceted Halite and a transparent piece of rough. Both from New Mexico. Carlsbad Potash District produces the most colorful pieces. And they are salty too! or you think I wouldn't lick a little piece?