Artichoke Risotto has become one of those dishes I dream about. I adore artichokes and one of the benefits of going to UC Santa Cruz was living next to Castroville, artichoke capital of the world, and getting luscious globe artichokes during the spring and fall season. As an undergrad, much to the chagrin of my roommate, I would boil the artichoke in a hot pot. Often the artichoke was so big that it barely fit. Little did I know at that time, that there were a myriad of other ways to prepare artichokes, and that by marrying my beloved, I would learn many delicious methods.
During our cooking school in Italy we take a tour of the wonderful open-air market in Padua. We are always treated to the variety of kinds and sizes of the magical thistle and often get questioned about how to prepare them. Artichokes are loved by Italians, although they never eat them just boiled with drawn butter as is the American tradition. Thought to have originated in the Middle East, it is believed that the Arabs brought artichokes to Naples. We know that artichokes were in that area in 700 and then moved up to Florence during the Renaissance, from there they became a luxury in Venice, birthplace of risotto, so it seems appropriate that we share a recipe for that quintessential Italian dish. It took awhile for artichokes to move to France and the rest of Europe; however, they were planted in the English King Henry VIII’s garden in 1530 where they were thought to be an extravagance and an aphrodisiac.
Creating artichoke risotto can be a bit intimidating. The artichokes need to be trimmed properly and at first the technique can be a bit daunting. No worries, just a bit of practice is needed. We like to use the small artichokes that in our stores come in packets. They are more tender than the big globe artichokes and are easier to trim.
To trim an artichoke, you need to fold each leaf back and snap it where the tender part ends, then pull down to remove it. Continue around the artichoke until you can see the lighter part coming halfway up the leaf. Then cut across the remaining dark part of the leaves and discard the top half. Also cut away the stem. Rub any of the cut parts with lemon so the exposed flesh doesn’t oxidize and turn black. Giuliano showed how to do this with a globe artichoke on one of his Today Show segments. He was working with Al Rocker and when Giuliano said “rub your hands with lemon too so they won’t turn black” Al stated, “well… too late for me”. Giuliano, in true form, pressed on. I think I would have lost it there. How would you have handled it? Watch the Today show segment here.
After cutting off the top, use a paring knife to trim the outside of the artichoke, removing all of the dark green parts. Since the small artichokes are so tender it is fine to eat the fuzz in the center. Cut the artichokes into ½- inch wedges and place them in a bowl of lemon water. Yay! The hard part is done.
Now you just need to cook the risotto. This is when I suggest child labor is a must. Stirring risotto is a great activity for children who are mature enough not to burn themselves on the hot stove. We put ours on a stool in front of the stove and off they go. It is a chore that they welcome, and much prefer to walking the dog or setting the table. Although they need adult supervision, it gives the adult freedom to make the salad or another part of the dinner. Buon Appetito