Artichoke Fly By in Florence
Risotto in Florence
A quick stop in Florence. We arrived early in the morning and had a tight schedule for the following 36 hours. In eating terms, that’s two lunches and one dinner. Breakfast always seems to be a stand up coffee and croissant so they don’t count.We lived in Florence for a year a while back so navigation was not a problem in terms of finding the right places to hit for lunch. The first stop was at Nerbone which is an institution in the central food markets (mercati centrale di San Lorenzo)of the city. Cheap, fast but you have to get in quick or be patient and wait for a cold, hard, metallic seat to free up. You order cafeteria style, taking a tray from the counter to share a table with a mixture of locals who know where to get a quick, quality lunch, and curious tourists visiting the food markets for the first time.
I was hoping they’d have the carciofi ritti that they occasionally have on the menu but not today. So I’ll have to post that recipe at a later date. The only artichokes on the menu today were in a risotto. Straight up and simple.I couldn’t get a nice photo of their risotto so made my own for this recipe.
Ingredients (serves 4)
250g /9 oz risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli, roma, vialone nano)
1 litre / 2.1 pints vegetable stock,
half a leek or 1 onion finely chopped
1 cup or 2 glasses of dry white wine
1 large handful of mint or parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of grated parmiggiano
1 large knob of butter
salt & black pepper
Now I think Italians are a little too keen on the odd stock cube or two and they always seem to find their way into a quick risotto. If you are going to use cubes, always try and find the better ones in good health food stores. If you want to stay clear of the MSG, which is in most stock cubes, and still inject some extra flavour into a risotto, keep some dried porcini mushrooms in your cupboard. Soak them for a couple of hours in a little water and add the mushroom liquor while cooking the risotto. You could also make your own bouillon by blending up your tastiest raw vegetables with salt to make a paste. This can be used straight away as you would a stock cube or frozen for later. Another simple way to make a quick stock is to keep most of your vegetable off cuts (not dirty skins) in the fridge until you have enough to simmer up in a large pot of water for a few hours. Strain it through a some muslin or fine weave cloth and you’ll have a little more flavour to add to a risotto. Whatever you use, put it on the back burner to simmer as you will need it hot for this recipe. You could also use chicken stock for this recipe.
Prepare the artichokes by working your way into the tender centre and finely slice all but one. The one you are not slicing you can cut into quarters or larger wedges and these will be used to garnish each plate. Put all of them straight into lemon water after cutting so as they don’t blacken.
Now in this dish I add artichoke at three separate times. the first for base flavour and creaminess, the second for flavour and a firmer texture, and the third as an element for presentation.
Clean and cut your leek. I like to slice it lengthwise finely, about 5 cm or a 2 inches, to give the risotto an extra textural feature.
In a heavy based pot heat the oil and butter together. Once the butter has melted add your finely chopped leek or onion, add small handful of the sliced artichokes drained and dried of the lemon water. Gently stir them around with a wooden spoon and they will begin to become translucent and soften on a low heat. There’s no need for them to brown.
When they soften it’s time to add the rice and the remainder of of your sliced artichokes . Place the quartered artichokes into the simmering stock . Stir the rice in with the leek and artichokes and turn up the heat to moderate.
Keep stirring and the rice will take on a sandy look as it heats up and is coated with the oil and butter.
Add the glass of wine and stir into the rice which will quickly evaporate and once it does it’s time to begin adding some stock, one ladle at at a time. Stir in one ladle of stock until all the liquid is absorbed. Once it is absorbed, add another ladle of stock. You can add a large pinch of salt at this stage. The risotto should not be bubbling out of control so turn the heat down if it is.
Keep adding one ladle of stock and stirring the rice until it’s absorbed. Continuously but gently stirring the rice is what stimulates the starch from the rices to give risotto the creaminess.
You should have enough stock to last you about 15 minutes which is enough time to cook the rice. Try a little to see if it’s still a little under al dente, remember it’s still a few minutes till it’s served so take into account that it will still cook for the next 2 or 3 minutes.
Remove for the heat and add your chopped mint or parsley, parmiggiano cheese and stir in and season finally to taste.
Cover the pot with a lid for only a minute while you set up you dishes. The steam trapped in the pot will further moisten your final risotto.
It’s ready to serve out onto your dishes. Reserve the quartered artichokes as a garnish, you can sprinkle a little extra herbs on.
So if you look at your risotto you should be able to see creamy artichokes all blended in to the rice, artichoke slices still in tact which is important for the eye to see and as texture, and the artichoke you have as a garnish. I would suggest garnishing this dish however you like. I actually like frying up a small handful of sliced artichokes til golden brown, salt them and sprinkle them onto the risotto before serving. The added colour is worth it.
I like to give it a drizzle of some extra virgin oilve oil and leave some parmiggiano for grating and black pepper for cracking on offer.
One good tip with ordering risotto in any restaurant is to make sure you have to wait for it. Presumably they are making it for you to order so when it reaches you, it’s perfectly firm and al dente. Which brings me to the quality of risoto rice. I didn’t realise that rice goes in and out of fashion. Years ago, Arborio rice was all the rage for making a risotto and you’d be boasting if you had some in your pantry. In recent years Carnaroli has taken that place giving you a nice and velvety texture to a risotto and still, it’s easy to cook beautifully al dente. But serious risotto makers are always looking out for the latest and gretest grain of rice. If you want to know what the latest risotto of choice is amonst the trend setting chefs, you’ve got to get onto the Vialone Nano. Never heard of it? That’s right! According to the finest chefs of the land at this year’s Salone del Gusto, it was the bee’s knees and it was heavily promoted as the latest sensation in the world of risotto. It has a higher starch content than Carnaroli or Arborio (or at least it releases a greter amount) and willl give you a really nice and creamy risotto with a softer finish.