CHEF DUILIO VALENTI has food and wine in his blood — his father, Jean Valenti, founded the Italian Sommelier Association in 1965. “I had my first important job at the age of 16 at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Gualtiero Marchesi in Milan,” says Valenti of his own career beginnings. At 20, he traveled to the U.S. and helped open Rex II Ristorante in Los Angeles, followed by Sorrento Grille in Orange County; the Los Angeles Times soon named Sorrento Grille one of the top 20 restaurants in the L.A. area. In 1996, Valenti moved to Marin to serve as chef/partner of Mill Valley mainstay Frantoio, and in May of last year he opened the doors to Valenti and Co., a San Anselmo eatery serving Northern Italian cuisine. His deceptively simple salad outlined here “is very easy to make, but the secret is in the quality of the ingredients; there’s nothing you can hide,” Valenti says: the baby artichokes must be rock-hard when squeezed, Grana Padano should be aged 12 months and the fresher the olive oil, the better. For the chef, knowing the tricks of the trade is part of the fun. “I have been cooking for 40 years now and love it more than ever,” he says. “It never gets old.” valentico.com
Salad of Raw Baby Artichoke and Grana Padano
- 1 cup Grana Padano, thinly sliced or shaved
- 1 lemon
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 12 baby artichokes
- Salt to taste
- Microgreens and edible flowers for decoration
- Take the cheese out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature (this makes it much easier to shave or slice), then shave about a cup; set aside.
- Juice the lemon and mix juice with the olive oil; set aside.
- Wash the artichokes in cold water and remove the outside green leaves until about half of the yellow inside leaves are exposed. Cut away the remaining top green leaves of each artichoke to create a cup. With a small paring knife, trim away the green bottom of the cup and the stem — again, to expose the yellow inside. You only want the tender yellow parts.
- Submerge the trimmed artichokes in cold water to prevent them from oxidizing and turning black (placing a small plate on them as a weight helps keep them completely underwater and away from air).
- Slice each artichoke as thin as you can with a sharp chef’s knife and place in a large bowl.
- Add lemon juice and olive oil, shaved Grana Padano and salt to taste.
- Mix in a pinch or two of microgreens.
- Combine gently with your fingertips in a lifting motion.
- Plate salad, decorating with a few edible flower leaves, and serve at once.