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Saffron orzo with charred deli artichokes from In Praise of Veg

Servings: 4
Some dishes are family heirlooms, others happy accidents, while some are simply divine inspiration. This one is the latter. And when I say ‘divine’, I truly mean it. Saffron and globe artichoke are two of Greece's (many!) gastronomic gifts to the world. If you’re to believe Greek mythology, it’s Zeus himself we have to thank for the artichoke, after he transformed a homesick goddess into a thistle. Here, through time and heat, the thistle is returned to her golden glory, resting on a bed of unctuous orzo – or kritharaki as it is known in Greece – dappled with the sunshine glow of saffron. Aptly, Zeus was said to have slept on a bed of saffron, so you could say that this dish is a reunion of sorts for the king of Olympus and his ex. Awkward.


  • cup olive oil
  • 6 cooked artichokes stems halved lengthways (see tip)
  • 2 French shallots finely chopped
  • 1 bunch of parsley stems finely chopped, leaves picked and chopped
  • cups orzo (or risoni)
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • a good pinch of saffron threads
  • 2 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon
  • ½ cup hazelnuts lightly toasted, then roughly chopped


  • Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add the artichokes cut side down and cook, without touching, for 4 minutes, or until charred and golden. Remove and drain on paper towel.
  • Add the remaining oil to the pan over medium–low heat. Add the shallot and parsley stems and cook for 4 minutes, or until softened. Add the orzo and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until glossy and slightly toasted. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. Add the saffron, then cover and cook for 12–15 minutes, or until the orzo is cooked through. Stir in the preserved lemon.
  • Place the artichokes on top of the orzo, face side up.
  • Cover and cook for 3 minutes to warm through.
  • Transfer to a serving dish and scatter with the chopped parsley and hazelnuts. Serve warm or cold.


Most continental delis sell two types of marinated artichokes – one preserved in oil, which tends to be just the heart, the other most likely kept in brine, with more of the leaf intact. Whichever you choose is up
to you. Jarred artichokes are more than a suitable replacement if these fancy ones are not forthcoming.
Instead of orzo, use instant couscous, frying up the artichokes while the kettle (or vegetable stock) comes to the boil. Stir saffron into the couscous just before pouring the hot liquid over it.
Double duty
This dish is one step away from being a pasta salad. Chop or tear the marinated artichoke into chunks, crumble some feta on top and serve cold – it’s a fantastic ‘bring a plate’ or desk-lunch option.

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