Visitors exploring Venice’s small, good restaurants discover not only the remarkably tasty seafood of the Adriatic but a variety of extraordinary vegetables: miniature nutty salad greens, ravishingly fresh zucchini, green beans, peas. The best are grown on the farms of the surrounding islands under the savory ventilation of the briny sea air, picked in their infancy and landed in the market the same day. Perhaps the most remarkable of this produce are the tiny first artichokes called castraure, often used to make a surpassingly fine vegetable risotto.
Castraure are so tender that they melt entirely in the risotto, their presence detectable only by a green tinge on the rice and the saturating, sweetly bitter artichoke taste. To achieve comparable, even if not identical, results with California artichokes is not impossible. The most important step, after having chosen the freshest, greenest artichokes you can, is to pare the vegetable down so that only the pale green, tender portion of the leaves remains attached to the heart. Then it is cut into the thinnest possible slices and cooked until very soft with a flavor base of garlic, olive oil, and parsley. At that point the rice is put in and the basic risotto procedure takes over.
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