You know, sometimes I feel so lucky.
Like when this idea for wheat berry pilaf and artichoke, which I basically adapted (stole) from David Lebovitz, just popped up magically in my inbox. There I was in the middle of a farm to table dinner going: now what am I going to do with wheat berries that I have not done before? (Because I use these a lot at Pie Ranch). And there his message was glaring at me – a recipe for freekeh which is a wheat berry pilaf of sorts with artichokes!
And there I was with a box of artichokes and a granary of wheat berries! Yes, sometimes I feel very lucky to have inspiration hit my inbox at just the right time. Our recipes are different due to different cooking circumstances, conditions and raw ingredients but I’m ever so thankful for the idea! Thanks Chef!
I normally make risotto with wheat berries but due to the large number of lactose intolerant people at the party I served a side for my side dish – I put out nettle pesto to mix in with the pilaf for those who were so inclined. However I did use a ‘risotto’ method in preparing the wheat berries minus the end steps which involve cream and cheese.
First I toast the berries lightly in an enormous high sided pan with olive oil and a handful of shallots stirring vigorously, then I deglaze the pan with a half bottle of wine again stirring the wheat berries vigorously until all the vino is absorbed (this stirring vigorously is said to get the starch rockin’ and give a silky texture to the risotto, although please note with wheat berries it is pretty much a lost cause to try and get any sexy texture goin’ on). Then I add the rest of the bottle of wine and again let the tough little suckers drink their fill while “rockin” the risotto.
Lastly, I cover the wheat berries with chicken stock stirring every 5 to 10 minutes, and adding more stock as it gets absorbed. Normally freekeh is made with cracked wheat berries, but I use whole wheat berries at Pie Ranch and they do take about an hour to fully cook. The nutty flavor and high protein is well worth the effort. I figure on a ratio of 1:3 of wheat berry to stock with extra on hand. They will absorb a lot of liquid!
Turning artichokes is my nemesis. I used to do about 15 crates of these every other day in France until my hands were stained black permanently and constantly swollen from invisible tiny thistles sticking in my fingers. Try grabbing a sauté pan and cooking over the fire when your hands are in that kind of pain! However, for the right crowd I can be convinced to go to town on a box or two. I used both large artichokes and baby ones for this recipe. The larger artichoke bottoms are diced small and hidden throughout the pilaf, the baby artichokes are in the limelight.
The trick to keeping artichokes from oxidizing is acidulated water. After I peel and/or cut off the leaves of the artichoke I rub it all over with a lemon half and toss it into a container of lemony water. If I am cooking the artichokes in water over the stove I use what is called a “blanc” which is acidulated water with a few tablespoons of flour. I don’t know why the flour aids in stopping the oxidation process but it does work. (That’s what you get when you train in France – a lot of rules and not a lot of explanation as to why things work the way they do).
For baby artichokes I peel off the outer leaves, cut them in half and scoop out the inner little fuzzy choke reserving the stem and the soft light green leaves. For mature artichokes, I take a serrated knife (a good strong long serrated knife – not a little flimsy steak knife) and saw off all the leaves at their ends down to the base. Then I scoop out the choke and rub lemon all over.
I know you’re thinking: but all that waste! All those good leaves! (You must be from California if that even crosses your mind because Californians practically grow up in artichoke fields!) Pigs love artichoke leaves. If you have pigs feed the leaves to them! If not, compost or steam separate.
Cooking the artichokes is easy peasy: coat with olive oil, season with sea salt, place on a roasting tray like the one pictured above with lemon slices and toss in the wood fire pizza oven until they are soft – about 15 minutes. Yes, you can do this in the oven too at 450˚F. And yes, the artichokes will turn a little black in the wood fire oven but that’s okay. The smokey flavor is fantastic. I do not par boil the chokes before roasting unless I’m BBQ’ing them.
The final finish to this wood fire roasted artichoke and wheat berry pilaf is of course the addition of bacon and perhaps a side dish for your side dish like nettle pesto. David likes to throw in a handful of parley which is a nice idea.
Thanks again David for the inspiration!!!!
- 2 large globe artichokes bottoms
- 4-6 baby artichokes,
- 4 lemons
- 2 cups whole wheat berries
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/4-1/2 bottle of white wine (I like a lot of wine)
- 3 shallots, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, shaved thinly on a mandoline
- 4 thick-cut bacon slices cooked slow (not dry and crispy, but still chewy)
- 1 cup blanched, finely chopped young nettles
- 1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pine nuts
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- 2 clove garlic blanched (with nettles) and minced
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Sea salt
Toast the wheat berries lightly in an high sided pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil and all of the shallots (careful not to burn the shallots) stirring vigorously. Then deglaze the pan with half the wine again stirring the wheat berries vigorously until all the vino is absorbed (this stirring vigorously is said to get the starch rockin' and give a silky texture to the risotto, although please note with wheat berries it's sort of a lost cause even though I do it anyways). Add the rest of the wine and again let the tough little suckers drink their fill while "rockin" the risotto – as it's called.
Cover the wheat berries with chicken stock stirring occasionally, adding more stock as necessary. I figure on a ratio of 1:3 of wheat berry to stock (or water) with extra on hand. They will absorb a lot of liquid! Towards the last 10 minutes of cooking sesason the pilaf with sea salt and and add the shaved garlic. If you season too early in the beginning it is very difficult to taste if the salt is in the broth or in the wheat berry. I prefer to wait towards the end. The pilaf will take at least an hour and can be prepared the day before and reheated with extra stock.
While wheat berries are cooking. Prepare the artichokes and pesto:
The trick to keeping artichokes from oxidizing is acidulated water. After I peel and/or cut off the leaves of the artichokes I rub them all over with a lemon half and toss them into a container of lemony water.
For baby artichokes peel off the outer leaves, cut them in half and scoop out the inner fuzzy choke reserving the stem and the soft light green leaves. For mature artichokes, take a serrated knife (a good strong long serrated knife – not a little flimsy steak knife) and saw off all the leaves at their ends down to the base. Then scoop out the choke and rub lemon all over.
For cooking the artichokes: coat chokes with olive oil, season generously with sea salt, place on a roasting tray with lemon slices and toss in the wood fire pizza oven until they are soft – about 15 minutes or an oven at 450˚F. Yes, the artichokes will turn a little black in the wood fire oven but that's okay. The smokey flavor is fantastic.
For the pesto: blanch the stinging nettle leaves for 15 seconds in salted boiling water. Careful – only grab the nettles with gloves or tongs because they sting. Cool blanched nettles in an ice bath, drain and chop. They will feel a little mushy, but that's how they are when blanched. Unfortunately if they are not cooked they sting very badly. Mix with grated parmesan, olive oil, chopped nuts, garlic, zest of 1 lemon, and sea salt to taste.
For the finish: chop the bacon and large artichoke bottoms up and add to the wheat berry pilaf. Stir in the pesto or serve alongside. Garnish with baby artichokes, chopped parsley, and caramelized lemon slices.