Thursday, June 17, 2010

Antipasti: Leek Ragu, Artichokes with Mint and Grana Padano, Shaved Asparagus with Pecorino, Smoky Fried Chickpeas

Jump to leek ragu recipe below.

Last month I threw a dinner party focusing on dishes from Mario Batali's Molto Gusto cookbook. The recipes are fairly simple and meant for everyday eating. To start, I served a series of antipasti with Italian cheeses: artichokes with mint and grana padano, shaved asparagus with pecorino, leek ragu, and smoky fried chickpeas or ceci frito.

The artichokes with grana padano and mint were wonderful. I loved the combination of mint with artichoke and red onion. A subtler, less nutty version of Parmigiano reggiano, Grana Padano is a nice addition to a dish where you don't want to overwhelm the flavors with a strong parmesan.

The shaved asparagus with pecorino romano was a simple refreshing salad. I could have eaten buckets of it. The pecorino romano adds a nutty saltiness which complements the acidity of the lemon vinaigrette. I highly recommend making this with thick asparagus as the thin ones are impossible to shave (I learned the hard way).

The biggest hit of the antipasti was the leek ragu served with slices of a crusty french baguette. The leeks are cooked until very soft in olive oil with garlic and seasoned well with Maldon and freshly ground black pepper. As simple as the preparation sounds, the result was absolutely delicious.

To snack, I served smoky fried chick peas from here. Chickpeas are fried until crispy on the outside but still soft inside and tossed with pimentón de La Vera, garlic, lemon zest, and thyme. Pimentón is a deeply smoky Spanish paprika with a bit of heat and the ability to transform a dish with its complex bold flavor.

Artichokes with Mint and Grana Padano (from Molto Gusto)
2 lbs artichokes
2 lemons, juiced
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups of water
1 medium white onion, cut into 1/4" dice
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup olive oil
Maldon or other flaky sea salt
crushed red pepper flakes
tiny fresh mint leaves for garnish
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced for garnish
3 oz grana padano

In a medium bowl, combine water, wine, and lemon juice. Remove the tough outer leaves of the artichoke, and cut off the top of the leaves to expose the choke. Trim the artichoke stem, leaving about 1", and cut away the leaves around stem. Remove the choke to expose the heart. Quickly transfer the artichoke heart to the lemon juice mixture as you work, to prevent oxidation. Repeat with each artichoke.

Transfer the artichoke hearts and their liquid to a medium pot. Add the basil stems, onion, garlic, and bay leaf. To keep the artichokes submerged, place a lid on top of the artichokes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until artichokes are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain the artichokes, reserving the garlic. Let cool slightly.

Halve the artichokes lengthwise and mash the garlic. In a medium saute pan over medium heat, add olive oil. Once oil is shimmery, add artichokes and garlic, cooking until very tender, about 12-15 minutes. Season with Maldon and crushed red pepper flakes. Remove from heat and set aside. Let stand for 1 hour at room temperature to bring out the flavors.

Transfer to artichokes and garlic to serving bowl. Scatter the tiny mint leaves and red onion slices throughout. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the grana padano on top.

Shaved asparagus with pecorino romano (from Molto Gusto)
1 lb asparagus, thick stalks, woody ends snapped off
2-3 oz of pecorino romano
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup of Tuscan olive oil
sea salt
coarsely ground black pepper

In a small bowl, add lemon juice and lemon zest. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Set aside.

Lay the asparagus flat on a cutting board. Using a vegetable peeler, thinly shave the asparagus using a long sweeping motion. Transfer shaved asparagus to a medium serving bowl.

Using a vegetable peeler, shave the pecorino romano over the asparagus. Drizzle with 1/2 of the vinaigrette. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Toss gently. Serve with remaining vinaigrette on the side.

Leek ragu (from Molto Gusto)
1/4 cup olive oil
5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 lb leeks
Maldon or other flaky sea salt
coarsely ground black pepper

Trim away the dark green part of the leeks. Slice lengthwise. Wash thoroughly in cold water. Be sure to open the leaves and wash all of the dirt away. 

Cut the white, yellow, and pale green parts into 1/2" thick slices.

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, stirring until soft, about 1-2 minutes. Add leeks, season with Maldon and pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of water, cover, reducing heat to low. Cook until leeks are very soft, about 15 minutes. If necessary, increase heat to high and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of the cooking liquid has evaporated. 

Adjust salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat and serve warm or at room temperature with crusty bread.

Smoky Fried Chick Peas or Ceci Frito (Inspired by this post)
2 cans of chick peas, 15 oz each (I used Eden organic and it worked well)
1 cup olive oil for frying
1 tbsp Pimentón, smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp red cayenne pepper (if you prefer spicier flavors)
sea salt
zest of one lemon, wide
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise

Drain and rinse chickpeas. Set on paper towels to dry for 1 hour. Pat dry, change paper towels, and let dry thoroughly. Can be done 1 day in advance.

Heat oil in a wok or other saucepan suitable for frying over medium heat. Test the oil by adding one chickpea, and if bubbles form around the chickpea, the oil is ready for frying. Add chickpeas in batches and fry for 5 minutes, or until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain over colander lined with paper towels. Fry lemon zest, thyme, and garlic.

Transfer chick peas, zest, thyme, garlic to a bowl. Toss with Pimentón, red cayenne pepper, and salt. Serve warm.

Note: I think 1 tsp cumin and 1 tsp corriander powder would be a nice addition. And maybe a squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice just before serving.


  1. Oh my, what a fab idea for a party. I <3 Mario- all this is making my mouth water!

  2. Tanvi- I think you and I share an obsession with Mario! You absolutely must go to Babbo the next time you are in NY.

  3. Great spread here. Must have been a great dinner party:)


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