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23 April 2012

Risotto with Artichokes, Apples and Flower Sprinkles and the Village of Ceri


I love sprinkles of color on white. Especially yellow.  Yellow dictates a positive outlook in life. Sunshine, light, happiness. It has been my favorite color ever since I was a child, which my Mom would always say proudly that I got from her. Is color preference hereditary?  I wonder. 


When spring arrives, the early flowering bulbs of our neighbor start to explode with beautiful yellow freesias. They are so beautiful that, when I look out the window, I see them lined up on the big planters around their house.  Flowers are meant to be looked at and that's exactly what I just did. 


I was ecstatic when, one day, after I received a package for them from the mailman while they were out, our neighbor gave me a beautiful bunch of freesias to thank me.  A person cannot not appreciate such beauty. It takes away the frowns crowding in the faces. That day had been stressful and just the sight of the flowers canceled whatever it was that was deepening the lines in my face.  


I like admiring the flowers when they are left attached to the plants. They stay beautiful longer than when they are cut and placed in vases. For that I always remind my husband to give me a pot of flowering plant instead of cut flowers. I feel better that way.  


My son, however, has a habit of picking wild flowers for me ever since he was little. No one taught him and no one obliged him which make his gestures genuinely beautiful. I usually have a glass of water in the kitchen for his small wildflower finds.

I still remember the time when we arrived at this house. It was about eleven years ago and one of the things I vividly recall is the emptiness and unattractiveness of the surrounds.  There were no plants at all, just ugly weeds.


Without any gardening experiences nor knowledge, both my husband and I embarked on a clean-up and beautifying project. We were determined to make the immense communal garden that we shared with the neighbors a place to enjoy. No one minded it except us when we arrived. Little did we know that it will take years before we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. I filled up all four sides of the house with potted flowers and herbs while my husband dug the garden to plant some trees.

Let me introduce you to a lesser known Lazial town that's just a few kilometers from Rome.  It's a tiny village which had been inhabited since the 7th century by different populations.  The Etruscans had lived there, then the ancient Romans. I am speaking about the ancient village of Ceri, a fortified plateau of tuff with its genuine people who are one of the nicest lot I have ever met. Twice I've been there, the people gave the place a friendly atmosphere.  Not to mention the local food, which, typical of the countryside, is worth a trip.   In a little shop of local gastronomical products, we even found a basket of fresh eggs for drinking.  Something that I only heard about from my husband's older relatives and saw in old movies but I never really encountered until that day.


Our choice of restaurant for that day was the agriturismo (farm holiday) called La Valle di Ceri.  It's a well-kept place with a big lawn.  On a sunny day we were there, the place was a little heaven for the kids.  The food was delicious from appetizer to dessert. 


The main attraction of the village is the Church of the Madonna which stands on an ancient site where the Etruscans and ancient Romans venerated the cult of the goddess Vesta.   The 12th century frescoes were discovered only in the 1980s.  


Now, let's speak about the risotto.  It has a surprising sweetness and tartness coming from the apples which gives the palate a pleasant flavor to linger on. The combination is something that needs to be tried.  I found the little bottle of flower sprinkles at the spice rack of the biological supermarket I frequent. If you want to know, it's just a mixture of different kinds of edible flowers mixed with salt. I would be experimenting in making them on my own when I finish my stock.  

Enjoy the colors of spring!



Risotto with Artichokes, Apples and Flower Sprinkles

Ingredients:
Serves 2
  • 160 grams Vialone Nano rice (or Carnaroli or Arborio)
  • 2 artichoke hearts, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 apple, diced
  • 1/4 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmigiano reggiano
  • about 2 cups hot vegetable broth
  • 2 cloves
  • flower sprinkles 
  • parsley, chopped finely
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • knob of butter
Directions:
  1. Toast the rice in a saucepan without putting anything.  Move them continuously to avoid burning, about 5 minutes.
  2. In another saucepan, warm up some oil and sautè the onion.  
  3. Add the cloves and the artichokes.  Let them all roast for a few minutes, about 3 minutes, then add the toasted rice.  
  4. Ladle some hot broth, about 1/3 of the 500 ml.  Keep on ladling little at a time during the cooking.  
  5. Towards the middle of cooking, add the apples.  
  6. Season with salt & pepper.
  7. When cooked, add the parmigiano reggiano and butter.  
  8. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with mixed flowers & parsley.