Risotto with Greens, Herbs, Garlic, and Lemon

I fondly remember a light and delicious herb-lime risotto I enjoyed one sunny September day some years ago.  I was at La Fenière, the celebrated hotel and restaurant in Loumarin, Provence, and this was one of the dishes chef Reine Sammut’s offered in her Mediterranean olive oil tasting lunch. She served the risotto topped with thin strips of braised cuttlefish, drizzled with a few drops of its deep black ink sauce. The seafood was excellent, but the fragrant, fruity rice was the real revelation to me.

 

Adapted from my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

 

 

I didn’t get Sammut’s recipe, just a description, so this is my own rendition of the dish: a simple greens, garlic, herb, and lime risotto that I make often, using any leafy winter or spring greens, and all or some of the herbs on the list, whatever my garden provides. When I don’t have fresh herbs I use the ones I often freeze; unfortunately even good dried herbs will not give the same rich result.

I conclude by folding-in grated Parmesan, which brings out the flavors of the herbs, and very often top the risotto with a 7-minute cooked egg; the deeply-flavored ones from our neighbor’s hens.

You can also serve along with Baked or roasted Fish, or complement the risotto with grilled Halloumi.

 

Serves 4-6 as main course; 6-8 as a side dish

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Spring…

This year we did not get much rain after December on Kea.  The landscape is quickly turning from green to yellow, although it is not yet too warm.  Still, spring is gloriously blossoming, and in shady spots green keeps its hold, and flowers keep surprising us with their elegant shapes and colors.  

SEE ALSO

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Ashure: Sweet Grains with Orange, Strawberries and Nuts

This recipe is a variation, inspired by the pudding I once had at Hi Life, a fish restaurant in Faliron, south of Athens.  The orange pieces and the fresh orange juice in the grain mixture make a thick, soupy ashure. We love it on its own, or served together with fresh, creamy or aged cheeses, especially with manouri, or any semi-hard goat cheese from Crete or from the Cyclades.

READ more about this ancient dessert. 

 

 

Serves 12-14

 

1 cup farro (see note) soaked in warm water overnight, and drained.

 

Pinch of salt

 

2 cinnamon sticks

 

1/3 cup cooked chickpeas (optional)

 

2/3 cup bulgur (fine or medium)

 

2/3 – 1 cup sugar, to taste

 

1/2 cup lemon or orange marmalade (optional)

 

2/3 cup almonds or hazelnuts (toasted if you like) coarsely ground

 

2/3 cup walnuts or pecan, coarsely ground

 

1/2 – 1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, as many as you like

 

8 dried figs, diced with scissors

 

6 dried apricots diced with scissors

 

1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

 

1/2 -1 teaspoon ground pepper

 

Zest and juice from 2 oranges, plus 2 more large oranges, one peeled and diced and the other sliced thinly for topping the pudding

 

1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other citrus-flavored liqueur –I use my own Lemon Liqueur

 

1 cup or more strawberries for topping, or about 2/3 cup pomegranate seeds

 

 

3-ashure-nut-mix-half-s
4-ashure-orange-s

 

In a pot bring to boil 2 quarts of water with the drained farro, a pinch of salt and the cinnamon sticks. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or more, until the grains are tender; be careful not to overcook them. Drain the farro, keeping the cinnamon sticks and the cooking broth; you need 6 cups of it.

In a mixer or blender process the cooked grains with some of the cooking liquid to get a coarse pulp. Transfer to a saucepan and add the chickpeas, if using, the reserved broth (6 cups minus what you used in the blender), the bulgur, the cinnamon sticks, and 2/3 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or more, until the bulgur is cooked.

 

5-ashure-mix-pot-s

 

Remove from the heat, discard the cinnamon sticks and stir in the marmalade, if using, the almonds or hazelnuts, the walnuts or pecan, the figs, the apricots and the pistachios, keeping 1-2 tablespoons for topping the pudding. Add the ground cinnamon and pepper, the orange zest, the orange juice, the diced orange and the liqueur. Stir gently to incorporate all the ingredients, taste and if you want, add more sugar, stir again and transfer to a large bowl.

 

6-ashure-bowl-1-s

 

Arrange the orange slices and the strawberries, or pomegranate seed on the surface of ashure and sprinkle with the reserved pistachios. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight before serving.

 

NOTE: I used Anson Mills Slow Roasted Farro in the US, both for my Kollyva and for Ashure. The wheat berries we use in Greece are similar to this particular farro, and very different from the American wheat berries, which I don’t recommend.

 

 

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Our Favorite Ancient Vegan Pudding

Asouré (or aşure) also called ‘Noah’s pudding’ in Istanbul, is an ancient, delicious, sweetened grain risotto with nuts and fruit, both dried and fresh. It is the perfect vegan dessert and we make it often in the spring, especially the days of Lent before Easter.  

 

Read also about kollyva, another version of the ancient sweet. 

 

1-ashure-plate-s

 

Asouré is probably the continuation of polysporia the mixture of grains symbolically offered by ancient Greeks and other Eastern Mediterranean people to their gods, especially Demeter (Ceres), the goddess of agriculture, much like kollyva which in ancient Greek the meant “small coin” or “small golden weight,” as well as “small cakes.” The Turkish and Greek asouré or asourés, also called ‘Noah’s pudding’ in Istanbul, is a similar age-old sweet.

In this the wheat berries are not drained as in kollyva, but simmered with sugar, sometimes, especially in Istanbul  together with beans and/or chickpeas until the cooking liquid thickens.  Nuts and dried fruits are added, and the soupy ashure is served in bowls, traditionally decorated with pomegranate seeds. It solidifies when it cools, like a real pudding.  In Israel and throughout the Middle East I found similar sweets, with the grains cooked in milk and sweetened with honey. Obviously, they all share the same ancient roots. (more…)

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Cheesecake with Feta and Myzithra (Ricotta)

This is my interpretation of the dessert made popular by Americans in  recent years. But fresh cheese desserts abound since ancient times all around the Mediterranean. Ricotta-like cheese, mixed with honey, dried fruit, and nuts was used for some of the first sweets our ancestors enjoyed on special occasions. Apicious the Roman cook and author, describes such a sweet in his book written the 1st century AD.

Both in Greece, in southern Italy, and in Sicily, ricotta-based sweets are very popular, especially around Easter time. Unfortunately, the current American version that uses packaged ‘cream cheese’ and has been adopted by bakers all around the world, is far from the delicious, if less refined-looking traditional cheesecakes from which I was inspired to make this one.

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