Thursday, May 13, 2010

Artichoke Challenge

Hello once again! It's been a while since I've been here, and for that I have to apologize. The truth is, I've been keeping a secret and it's been a little bit hard for me to be social and talkative for fear of spilling the beans. But the beans are out of the bag now (to mix a metaphor) and I'm back!

Oh, so you wanted to know the secret? Really? Mmmm, okay... well the two of us, Kyle and I, are about to become three!! No, we're not entering into some illegal polygamous relationship, there's a wee one in the works!

So now that I've cleared the air and there are no secrets anymore... on to the real meat of it, the meat of the artichoke! This challenge was the artichoke challenge and my entry is sautéed artichoke hearts with mushrooms over risotto style orzo. This challenge circle is turning into a real little community. We're welcoming our 4th member to the challenge Katrina! So make sure to check all of our artichoke entries. I will update the entry when links are available!

The thing about artichokes is that they're a real pain to clean. You certainly don't need to take off as much as I did if you plan on using more than just the very heart, but I just wanted the softest most tender chunks. Apparently if you buy the little ones, they sometimes come with no choke.

I have never seen this happen.

Instead I always end up elbow deep in these little white prickly bristles, with a melon baller that looks like I've been involved in the perverse torture of a hedgehog. Once you strip off the outer leaves, the stem, and the hard green parts around the base, you're left with the yellowy heart. There are also beautiful purple inner leaves that are a little bit sharp and should be pulled out or trimmed. And the hated choke. It is the bristly fur in the middle of the artichoke. A grapefruit spoon is actually the best method for removing this, but ours broke so I use a melon baller now.

I also like to do this in water, for two reasons: 1) because the fibres of the choke will stick to you and this helps to clean them off, and 2) because the artichoke flesh will oxidize and turn dark in the air. Rubbing all the cut surfaces with a lemon will help to stave off the browning, but immersing in water (or lemony water) will further ensure you don't end up with a blackened heart... artichoke heart.

For the recipe, you will need the following:
5 large artichokes
1 lemon
7 white or café mushrooms (cleaned and sliced thinly)
1/4 cup dried chanterelle mushrooms (reconstituted in boiling water for 2 minutes and chopped roughly)
3 oz pork belly diced into cubes the size of a single lego (think one peg)
1 small onion sliced
a shot of sherry vinegar (about 1/2 - 1 oz)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 pieces of parmesan rind
1/3 - 1/2 cup dried orzo
4 cups chicken stock

Once you have the hearts properly cleaned and de-choked slice them into thin strips and put them in a bowl of acidulated water (with lemon or vinegar)

In a sauté pan, brown the onions in oil and remove. Add the little cubed pork belly and fry until browned. Then both types of mushrooms, once browned add the artichoke slices and fry until golden on the edges and a little crispy. Then add your shot of sherry vinegar and scrape down the pan. Remove from the heat and mix in the crispied onions. Ordinarily I would suggest keeping the liquid that you reonstituted the dried mushrooms in, but chanterelle mushrooms are notoriously gritty and unless you fancy worn down little nubs for teeth, just discard the mushroom liquid.

And then we tackle the orzo. Parmesan rinds are very handy little buggers. They're cheap and they very useful in risottos, soup stocks, and pasta sauces. Keep them in the freezer and they'll last for quite a while. You can usually find them from stores that sell chunks of the cheese in a hollowed out rind, they will usually cut up the rind when they're done with it and sell them rrrrreal cheap.

To prepare the orzo risotto style is very easy, but a) it sticks more than traditional risotto, and b) it takes less time. Heat some oil in a pan and add the orzo and stir for about 30 seconds. Reduce the heat to medium. Add about 1/3 cup of broth and stir. Once the broth is absorbed, add more broth. Don't add all the broth at once because you'll just boil it like traditional pasta and the starches won't be pulled out creating a creamy texture - which, if you hadn't guessed already is the goal. Once there's a little goop in the pan (the starch - probably after 2 or 3 ladles of broth) add the parmesan rind. It will soften and release its cheesy flavour. Keep adding broth (1/3 of a cup, or 1-2 ladles at a time) until the pasta is cooked and the texture is creamy. You don't have to use all the broth. Once it is done, remove the parmesan pieces (I like to chew them like gum because they're all soft and chewy at that point -- should I not have mentioned that? Are you all grossed out and judging me now?)

And there you have it. Top the risotto with the artichoke mushroom mixture and eat it. I garnished with lemon zest, but like these old gems you can choose your own... garnish... adventure

Well that's it, sorry for the long gap between posts, I promise that I'll be better now that I have nothing to hide -- or do I?
Well thanks for visiting the museum, please comment otherwise... you know... need I remind you?