Baby Artichoke Risotto
When spring comes, Italians and Italian Jews savor using the fresh crop of artichokes in a variety of dishes. Artichoke risotto (risotto ai carciofi) was one favored by Venice’s Jews—once you taste it, it will be clear why. The creamy dish yields a mild artichoke flavor with nice little bites of artichoke hearts and herby freshness from the parsley. I prefer baby artichokes, which lack the sharp “choke” in the center and are easier to work with than the big globe artichokes. Look for artichokes with a smooth green color and compact center leaves, and use them within a couple of days of purchase. Be sure to use only the tender part (remove the tough outer leaves and top half—be brutal!) or the artichokes will be a bit too chewy in the risotto. Adding a splash of lemon juice at the end brightens the flavor.
- 4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable stock, preferably reduced sodium
- 1 bay leaf
- 12 baby artichokes
- 1 large lemon (with ½ teaspoon of juice reserved)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 finely chopped medium sweet onion (about 1 cup)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced (about 1 heaping tablespoon)
- 1½ cups risotto rice (such as Carnaroli or Arborio)
- 1 cup light-bodied white wine, such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for topping
- Heat stock and bay leaf in a covered medium-sized pot over medium-low heat until it is steaming hot (do not boil).
- Meanwhile, prepare the artichokes. Squeeze the juice of the lemon (reserving ½ teaspoon juice for later) into a medium bowl. Fill with cool water. Working with one artichoke at a time, completely remove the stem, pull off the tough outer leaves until you get to the tender and lighter-colored inner layer and then cut off the top half. Cut the artichoke into ½-inch or smaller wedges and immediately plunge the pieces into the lemon water to prevent browning. Repeat with the rest of the artichokes. Reserve a handful of the best-looking firm outer leaves for garnish. Discard the rest of the scraps.
- Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, season with a scant ½ teaspoon kosher salt (use less if your broth or stock is salty) and black pepper to taste and cook, stirring frequently, 3 to 5 minutes, until just softened. Meanwhile, drain the artichoke hearts and pat them dry. When the onions are soft, add the artichokes. Cook stirring frequently, 4 minutes on medium-low heat, adding more oil if the mixture starts to dry out. Add the garlic and cook stirring constantly, about 45 seconds.
- Add the rice and stir constantly, 1 to 2 minutes, until the rice grains just start to turn translucent on the edges. Add wine, stirring until liquid is almost absorbed.
- Remove and discard the bay leaf from the stock. Keeping the rice mixture at a low boil, stir in ½ cup (about 2 ladlefuls) of stock, stirring every minute or so, until the liquid is almost all absorbed. Repeat until the rice is tender with resistance in the middle and the mixture is creamy (this should take about 20 to 25 minutes). Add the parsley with one of the last couple additions of stock. You will likely have a small amount of stock leftover.
- Remove risotto from heat. Stir in the reserved ½ teaspoon of lemon juice. Stir in the cheese and taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Spoon risotto into individual wide bowls and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of cheese. Garnish each serving with an artichoke leaf if desired, and serve immediately.