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31 March 2007

how lucky I am

artichoke risotto

This happens often.

Yesterday, someone I met found out that I am marrying a chef. She squealed and asked me, “Does he cook for you, after he comes home from work?”

Almost embarrassed at all my riches, I nodded, a little secret smile on my lips.

“Oh, you lucky girl!” she squealed, and clapped her hands. “You are so lucky.”

I know it. Every day, in some new fashion, fortune comes rushing up to meet me.

In the early afternoons, I drive the Chef to the restaurant. Lately, we have been gesturing to each new green leaf emerging, as we drive through the Arboretum. Laughter fills the car, along with rollicking music. An entire morning of reading, eating, and talking about food trails behind us, a memory on the hill where we live. An entire day of cooking lays before him, a day of writing before me, after we split off from each other. Those moments of driving are the time in between, when we are most close, and aware of how fortunate we are to have found each other. We still kiss at every stop light.

Most days, I buy him coffee, throw my arms around him one more time, and leave the restaurant after a few moments. He’s in work mode, and I’m itching to start typing. The impending time apart only makes the meeting in the evening sweeter. We have our routine, as familiar now as the feeling of holding each other’s hands in the car.

On Thursday, however, we arrived at the restaurant a little early. I wanted to take some photographs in that blue-tinged light bouncing off the lake, just outside the windows. As I bent down to take a photograph of fish, he came around the corner of the kitchen with a grin on his face.

“Do you want some risotto?”

Who’s going to say no to this?

The night before, the Chef had reveled in the pleasure of cooking a winemaker’s dinner. Once a month, or more, he tastes wine in the afternoon, swirls it around his mouth, and swallows. By the time he has finished, he already has an idea forming. The local winemaker, or representative for a company that imports great wines, trusts him to create the food that will complement the wines, perfectly. After some small pondering, he does. And then people come in, anticipating, for six courses of the Chef’s food, and wines to match each course. They leave sighing and smiling. At the end of the night, the Chef bounds out from the restaurant to meet me, his arms wide, his eyes excited. He loves making people happy with his food.

On Thursday, just past noon, he had a little food left over from the night before. He loves to feed me. He loves to see my reaction to his food. Giggling a little, he disappeared into his small kitchen. I heard sizzling and steaming. I smelled the familiar comfort of salt, stock, and butter. I sighed, my eyes tearing up a little. How did I find this man?

In a few moments, he emerged from the kitchen, grinning his sideways grin. In his hands, two large, shallow bowls. He set them down on the bar, one in front of me, and the other in front of the empty chair to my left. I looked inside. A small mound of steaming risotto, studded with artichoke hearts. Surrounding it, a sherry vinaigrette, and the first miner’s lettuce of the season. I leaned in and wolfed down the steam with my nose. Light as sun through green leaves, pungent as the earth finally giving up its smell again, peppery and yearning. It smelled like spring.

Spontaneously, I took out the camera to capture it. He’s used to me. Taking photographs, instead of diving right in, is my way of honoring the food he has prepared for me. It’s my way of saying grace.

While I snapped, he ran back to the kitchen. He came back with pan-seared sea scallops, dusted in sorghum flour.

I looked at him, free of words, only smiling. I kissed him, urgently. And then we both leaned down to our plates.

Lucky? Oh yes. I know I am.

ARTICHOKE RISOTTO

This afternoon, we received a particularly beautiful letter from a reader. She mailed it to the restaurant, and we were grateful to read it together. After we looked at each other in astonishment, at her kindness, we went back to his kitchen, together.

He drew artichokes on his white board, he mimed putting a handful of salt into a pot, and he demonstrated how to push risotto in a pan, gently. I wrote it all down. As he started to fillet the ono he had ordered for the fish special that night, I asked him to talk. He dictated this recipe to me. I prodded him with questions. We work as a team this way. He has the history of making food every day in his hands and brain. I know how to ask him for more details. (“But how will people know when it’s done? What will it look like?”) We love this.

This recipe may seem lengthy and time-consuming. But believe me, it’s worth it. And what could be better than an afternoon in the kitchen, making up a risotto that could make someone you love feel lucky to know you?

We want you to have this recipe. (And Cari, if you are reading this, we especially want to share this with you.) I shouldn’t be the only one who can eat a lunch like this.


Artichoke stock

4 globe artichokes
1 medium-sized carrot
2 ribs celery
1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
½ cup white wine

Cut off the top one-half inch of each artichoke. Peel off the outer, spiny leaves and discard them, until you reach the softer, yellow leaves beneath them.

Pull all the yellowy leaves off the artichokes (do not take off the heart) and put them into a stockpot.

Add the carrot, celery, onion, and white wine to the stockpot. Cover the artichokes with water. Bring this to a boil and turn down the heat to allow the leaves to simmer for half an hour. Remove from heat.

The stems and the risotto


1 lemon, juiced
3 additional lemons

1 yellow onion, peeled and fine diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon good-quality olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 to 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup parmigiano-reggiano

Trim the stem of each artichoke, as though you are peeling a carrot, with a paring knife or peeler. Repeat this with the other stems. Put the stems into the stockpot with the juice of one lemon.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. (Use about one-half cup of salt to a large stockpot.) Juice the three lemons and add the juice to the boiling water, and then throw the lemon rinds into the water as well.

When the water has come to a boil, add the artichoke stems and hearts into the water. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes, or until a knife can pierce a stem easily.

Toss the artichoke stems into ice water and let them cool completely. Drain them.

Remove all the fuzzy leaves until you reach the artichoke hearts. When you reach the artichoke heart, cut it in half. Chop each half into quarters. Slice the stems into small slices. Set aside.

Bring a large skillet (about 12 inches) to heat on a burner set to high. When it has reached full heat, add the oil and butter. When the oil and butter run around the pan easily, add the onions and garlic. Sauté them on medium-low heat until the onion has turned soft and translucent, about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the fresh thyme and cook for one minute more.

Add the Arborio rice and cook it for two minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the grains are entirely coated. Add the white wine and cook it until is reduced by one-half. (Stir the rice gently, ever so gently, by slowly pushing it or gently tossing it in the skillet. If you beat up the rice by stirring it too vigorously, the rice will release all its starches and turn the risotto glurby.) This should take about five minutes.

At this point, add the artichoke stock to the rice, a cup at a time, stirring gently. (Imagine that you are trying to put a baby to sleep with your stirring.) Stir and stir until the stock is absorbed into the rice. When the liquid is absorbed, but not dry, add more stock. Continue this process with all the stock until it is all absorbed.

Taste the rice. It should be chewy and soft, but not mushy. It should have no crunch to it. Season the risotto with salt and pepper, and taste to see if you need more.

Add the cream, the artichoke hearts and stems, and the parmigian-reggiano cheese. Stir it all gently until everything is completely incorporated.

Scoop up the risotto and place it into bowls for your eager guests.

Serves six.

15 Comments:

At 3:06 AM, Blogger Jeena said...

Hi Shauna, Great blog you have here! My hubby isn't a chef but when he does cook for me it is so so nice! I love to cook but it is a treat have someone else do it for you :)

 
At 6:58 AM, Blogger Slacker Mom said...

I love risotto. It is the saving grace for an Italian-American girl that has to eat gluten free.

This one looks so good..

 
At 9:30 AM, Blogger mare said...

That made me smile!

My darling Crab Cake cooks for me. He cooks simple things that are naturally GF or that have been certified because he doesn’t want to take a chance...there are several cans of tomato soup in his cupboard purchased for me that contain gluten. He hates tomato soup, but maybe some day he'll be starving...

I recall digging into a delicious meal only to have the plate pulled out from under me with the fork half way to my half-open mouth because he realized he forgot a condiment, or a garnish or the arrangement wasn't quite right. Crab Cake is not a chef, he's a caring sweet kind man who is in love.

For my birthday, he taught me how to make spring rolls.

No one has ever taught me how to cook something before. Or taught me so well and so gently that I am adored.

 
At 10:15 AM, Blogger Jeanne said...

OMFSM! I love artichokes and I love risotto! Yum! And I'm just thrilled at your joy with your Chef. It sounds so much like DH and I were when we first started. So dreamy. We've been meaning to get over to the Chef's restaurant--we will, soon!

 
At 11:51 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

Shauna,
You seem as familiar to me as the clerk at the grocery store even though we've never met. I absolutely adore you. I am living vicariously through you and your love, life, good fortune, and gratefulness for it all. I am actually becoming a better (not good, mind you, but 'better' is fairly impressive for me) cook due to you (and the Chef) sharing your recipes here.

I feel as happy for you and the Chef as if you were my real life friends. I share in your joy from part way across the state.

The love you shared is amazing, dynamic, intoxicating. At the risk of sounding pathetic and whiny (which is not my intention) I want to just echo what you already know: what you and the Chef share is rare, indeed. I long for what you have. I am deeply 'in like' with my husband of almost 11 years, but we don't have that something special that just ooozes out of every word you type. So the vicarious part for me is the hope that what I have here may someday turn into something more closely resembling what you have. You are blessed!

PS--I am hoping to take your PCC class on GF cooking!

 
At 2:04 PM, Blogger Samatakah said...

When I read your blog, I think about how great "the lightning bolt" is.

I know I'm married to best husband in the world, and I know that you are (or will be) also. Because "in the world" is implicitly followed by "..for me" and "...for you." My husband doesn't cook, but he dances. We each have our priorities...

 
At 7:52 AM, Blogger Lakshmi said...

Dear Shauna,
Have been reading your blog since a few weeks now - devouring it is more like it! Love your joie de vivre, zest for life (and lemons!), your vivacity - all that and more!

http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/04/01/travel/01Milan.html - I read about your honeymoon plans and thought that this link might be a good reference.

lov,
Lakshmi

 
At 7:57 AM, Blogger Alison said...

Hi Shauna!
I was lucky enough to dine at Impromptu about a week ago when I was in Seattle visting my sister. My family knows how much I love your blog and made the reservation to eat there before I could say anything. What love! The Chef was nice enough to come to our table and tell me that I could nibble on my sister's crab cakes because they too were gluten free. What an amazing, relaxing, fullfilling dining experience. Please thank the Chef for me!

 
At 10:33 AM, Blogger Allergy Free said...

Found you through Celiac Chicks - that dish looks yummo!

 
At 10:19 AM, Blogger s'kat said...

Between you, the Chef and Sam, I think I'm going to have to suck it up and attempt my first artichoke risotto!

 
At 12:57 PM, Blogger E.I. said...

Shauna!
I just refound this blog (I'd lost the link)--amazingly, through finding your friend Meri's, which is on SU's website, which is where I am going to school...
& I am so glad to have found you! & that you are still posting about incredible food (I have plans to try them, especially this summer when I will live at home again in my parents's great grand kitchen; my mother is also gluten free so she'll appreciate this I'm sure).& I am glad for your book & every lovely thing that is happening for you...
& I am so so glad for you & your Chef! It sounds incredible & right now I am bouyed by stories of love because I am also in love.
Ha. I am so glad to find this again...I miss talking with you! Hopefully following this blog will give me some of that again.
Love
Kenna (erudite.imp at gmail.com)

 
At 5:26 PM, Blogger janelle said...

thanks. That was really cool.

 
At 6:49 PM, Blogger Deborah Dowd said...

Shauna,
What a great post. Of all the dishes I have tried I have never made risotto, but your description sounds so wonderful and the recipe looks easy enough that I am tempted to give it a whirl!

 
At 5:58 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

After a few hours in the kitchen and a lot of gentle stirring, I find myself seated before a comforting plate of artichoke risotto. This recipe is labor intensive to be certain, but entirely worth the effort. The finished product sings of early spring: warm and substantial enough to take the chill out of a late frost, bright and earthy enough to set the stage for the season of sprouting and growing...

Thanks to you and the Chef for sharing it with us.

PS: I think I'm going to pan-fry the leftovers into risotto cakes tomorrow. And maybe serve it with a red lettuce salad and a roasted-tomato goat cheese vinaigrette.

 
At 4:32 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Jeena,

Thank you so much! It is wonderful to have someone cook for us, one of the best acts of love.

Slacker Mom,

Oh goodness, I can only imagine the risottos I'll be eating in Italy! And this one? It really is wonderful.

mare,

Your Crab Cake sounds wonderful. If someone makes food, it doesn't have to be "gourmet" or rare to be an act of love. When the Chef makes quesadillas for us, I'm thrilled.

Jeanne,

Oh, I do hope you have the chance to eat there soon. And me and the Chef? I just can't help it — writing about him just bubbles out of me.

Melissa,

Thank you for what you wrote. I am humbled by it. It gave my heart a pang, however, to read the description, of "being in like" with your husband. I do hope you can find the spark again, that reason for singing. We're here for such a short time.

Oh, and I hope I can meet you at the PCC class soon!

Samatakah,

Such an important phrase you threw in there. He is perfect, for me. I'm sure there are plenty of things the Chef does and ways he dances through life that would irritate someone else. We just have to find our connections.

Lakshmi,

Thank you! I hope you keep reading. And thanks for the link to Milan. There are so many places in Italy to choose from!

Alison,

We were both thrilled to read that you had such a good experience. In fact, after you ate there, the Chef called me to tell me of how he surprised you with the crab cakes. It gave him delight. I'm so happy you ate well.

Allergy Free,

Thanks for stopping by! It was delicious.

S'Kat,

yes please! It's worth it.

e.i.

Dear, dear Kenna! This was such a wonderful surprise, to find you here. Yes, spring and love and all things life. But you always found a way to take joy in the moment. Please email me. We must have a hot cup of coffee and a fast talk about everything.

Janelle,

You're welcome.

Deborah,

Try it! It's funny, isn't it? How we are intimidated by certain foods. Before I went gluten-free, I had never made risotto either. But now the Chef has made it so easy for me that I think of it as a mundane task. Let it into your life.

Nicole,

I'm so happy that you made the risotto. And your leftovers sound fantastic! Can I come over for lunch?

 

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