Riana Lagarde of Garlic Breath is one of my favorite food bloggers. She’s an American who lives in the south of France with her daughter and French husband.
Over the last few years, Riana became overwhelmed by the amount of belongings she had (or inherited), so determined not to buy anything for one year, except food. She quit shopping in 2007, and is still going strong. For January 2008, Riana is not even buying food, and instead is living off the contents of her freezer, cupboards, and garden.
Riana’s “slow year” has been fascinating to read about. She’s brewed walnut liquor, preserved tangerines, and made cheese. She’s cured olives, baked cherry pie in her woodstove, made lye, nixtamaled corn for hominy, and written about all of it in captivating detail.
Riana’s adventures made me think about how much we have and how little we truly need. As a New Year’s exercise, for the month of January, I decided to forego shopping except for essential food items (so far I’ve bought milk, eggs, yogurt, and onions). We get fresh fruit and vegetables every other week from our Full Circle Farm CSA box. For the rest, I’m relying on my freezers and pantry.
It’s been interesting; not spending money requires a surprising amount of discipline. It’s easier to buy what you want when you want it. It’s harder to figure out alternative ways to get things done. Not shopping has made me pay attention to minor ways I waste for the sake of convenience.
The best part of this month has been working through the food in my freezers. It’s forced me to plan ahead for meals; meat and fish need to be thawed, beans need to be soaked, and bread needs to be made. Instead of dashing to the store for last minute dinner ingredients, I’m using up what we already have.
My current goal is to see air in the refrigerator’s freezer before February. Every day or so I yank open the freezer door and pull out what comes easily to hand. I lie in bed at night thinking about how best to use what I’ve defrosted.
Two days ago a bag of frozen artichoke hearts rose to the top of the freezer’s heap. As I contemplated the artichokes, I knew whatever I made had to help warm my bones. For the last few days the weather has been bracingly cold, -5°F at my house this morning.
In the dark of the night, I decided to make Greek artichoke and tomato stew, spiced up with Aleppo pepper and slivered olives. The next day, when the stew was done, I found myself with extra dough from my siege of baguette baking. My mind jumped immediately to pizza.
I returned the stew to the burner and simmered it until the sauce reduced to a paste, the perfect consistency for pizza topping. Feta cheese and crushed oregano added the finishing touch to a great vegetarian pizza.
Whether you eat the artichokes, tomatoes, and olives as stew or pizza (or with cheese ravioli, which is how we ate the leftovers tonight), they are a wonderfully warming meal for yet another cold winter day.
Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew (Αγκινάρες και Ντομάτες με Ελιές)
Serves 2 - 3
Frozen artichoke hearts or artichoke quarters work well in braised recipes, especially when they are first lightly browned in olive oil to drive out excess moisture and bring up the flavor. Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew takes 30 - 45 minutes to make and is delicious with garlic roasted potatoes on the side. It is good served over pasta, or mixed with tortellini or ravioli. It may also be used to make Artichoke, Tomato, and Olive Pizza (see recipe below). The recipe can be made ahead and easily expanded to feed a crowd. An easy way to pit the olives is to lay them out on a cutting board and smash them with a meat mallet hard enough to loosen the pit but not so hard that you smash the pit into pieces. After smashing olives, the pits pop right out.
1/4 cup olive oil
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts or quarters, thawed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups diced onions, 1/2” dice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
1 Tbsp. dried thyme, crushed
2 cups, or 14.5-ounce can, diced tomatoes with their juices
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup pitted and slivered oil-cured or salt-cured black olives
1/4 cup minced parsley
In a sauté pan large enough to hold all the ingredients, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Sauté the thawed artichoke hearts, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until they begin to brown. Remove the artichokes from the pan and reserve.
In the same pan, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until they soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the garlic, Aleppo pepper, and thyme and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the reserved artichokes, tomatoes, white wine, and olives and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, about 20 – 30 minutes. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Stir in the parsley and serve with crusty bread and feta cheese.
Artichoke, Tomato, and Olive Pizza (Πίτσα με Αγκινάρες, Ντομάτες και Ελιές)Makes 1 15-16" pizza
The topping is identical to Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew (see recipe above), except the tomato sauce is thicker and feta cheese and oregano are included for added flavor. You can use leftover Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew to make pizza sauce by simmering the leftovers until the sauce is reduced to a thick paste. If you have leftover topping from making the pizza, thin it with a little water (or wine) and serve it as pasta sauce. Ladenia (a traditional Greek "pizza") dough makes a tasty, olive oil-based crust, but you can use any yeast dough for making pizza. Because I had some on hand, I used Old-Fashioned Baguette dough.
1 recipe Ladenia dough (see below), or 1 pound bread or pizza dough
1 recipe Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew (see above)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)
1/4 tsp. oregano
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp. dried yeast (1 packet)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 3/4 – 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Olive oil for oiling pan
Make the dough: Put the warm water in a large bowl and sprinkle it with dried yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes while the yeast begins to work. Mix in the salt and olive oil. Stir in the smaller amount of flour, and add enough of the remaining flour to form slightly sticky dough. Adding flour as necessary, knead the dough until it is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky. (Kneading the dough in a stand mixer makes the task quick and easy.)
Liberally oil the bottom of a 15 - 16” round pan (or a 12” x 14” roasting pan) with olive oil. Start stretching the dough with your hands, and put it into the pan. Press the dough out until it fully covers the pan’s bottom. If some of the olive oil oozes onto the dough, use it to lightly oil the top. Cover the pan with a dish cloth or plastic wrap and set it aside to rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (about 1 hour).
Make the topping: Follow the recipe for Artichoke, Tomato and Olive Stew (above), but simmer the stew until it is reduced to a thick paste, 40 – 45 minutes. Watch carefully near the end of the cooking time and stir regularly to prevent the topping from sticking to the pan and burning. Remove from the heat.
Make the pizza: Preheat the oven to 400°F.
When the dough has finished rising, use your fingertips to make little indentations all over it. Evenly spread the topping over the dough, making sure the artichokes are evenly distributed. (It’s better to have leftovers than to overload the dough with topping.) Sprinkle the feta over the topping and the crushed oregano over everything.
Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, or until the sides of the pizza are browned and the dough is cooked through.
Cut into pieces and serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.