Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Reading Rainbow

When I moved to Hell's Kitchen and 15 minutes from my office, I never expected it to have such a huge impact on my life and routine. Sure, I was in an almost entirely unfamiliar part of the city, one that I'd long found dangerous and formerly chock full of sassy transvestites, so some adjustments to everyday life were to be expected. The most surprising and completely unexpected change by far was my zeal for reading. I've loved to read since I was a kid and have always spent any spare moment reading something. As a child I read so much and so often that my parents were forced to stop buying me books--there were simply no more age appropriate ones left that I hadn't read. With limitless energy and a serious case of insomnia, the good people behind The Babysitters Club, R.L. Stein novels and Nancy Drew just couldn't be counted on to crank them out fast enough. As a result I was forced to read whatever I could find around the house--the Washington Post, a biography of Grace of Monaco--even the enormous leather bound copy of Webster's dictionary was fair game.

Although my resolve to read everything within arms reach has lessened over the years, I continue to read a staggering amount of materials. In recent years I've taken to reading 3 books at a time, each one serving it's own purpose within the scope of my day. One is reserved for my commute and is expected to be interesting, but not so engaging that I miss my stop on the train. A second book is for reading before bed and is generally a biography, historical epic, or other less compelling type of story that will help lull me to sleep as the insomnia of my childhood persists into adulthood. And the third is usually a treat book, the one that's so good you don't want it to end (and is often a guilty pleasure).

But now, all that is the reading routine of yesteryear, since I no longer have a train commute to work and actually have shorter train rides when visiting friends. No longer am I buying books by the 100% recycled toteful. Besides not having anywhere to store them, I simply don't have the time to read them. On the bright side, I've been able to redirect my reading energy towards buying cookbooks. Although I rarely recreate exact recipes, they are awfully helpful in coming up with pairings and choosing seasonal ingredients. One of my best (and most recent) cookbook purchases has been Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters. The recipes are great for the moderate to advanced home cook, and organized by vegetable and listed seasonally. I made the artichoke ragout with new potatoes recipe last night for dinner and loved it. Despite a few minor adjustments it was a delicious combination (slightly acidic soft artichokes with firm, sweet, new potatoes--yum!) and totally in season. Here's the recipe with my changes:

Artichoke Ragout with New Potatoes
(adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables)

9 new potatoes, quartered (I used the rainbow type)
5 artichoke hearts, quartered (you can use canned/frozen for this too)
2 spring onions, chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flake
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp butter

1. Cook potatoes in a pot of salted boiling water until cooked through (about 10-15 minutes).

2. Meanwhile, heat extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tbsp butter, red pepper flake and spring onions in a skillet. When the Spring onions have softened, add the artichokes, a splash of water and season with salt and pepper. Cover and let stew over a low flame until artichokes are tender (10 minutes for fresh, 2 minutes for canned or frozen).

3. Uncover and add potatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, remaining 1 Tbsp butter and chopped parsley. Continue cooking a few minutes longer until liquid is slightly reduced and silky. Toss to coat and enjoy!


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