Thursday, May 9, 2013
Friday, May 3, 2013
Not much in the kitchen intimidates me. I’ll embrace almost any culinary task: whipping up homemade mayonnaise; kneading dough for pizza or focaccia; brushing olive oil onto impossibly thin sheets of filo dough; cutting butter into a crust for a fruit galette or savory quiche. But there are two cooking projects that I avoid whenever I see a recipe for them: making fresh pasta and trimming whole artichokes. They seem like more fussy work than I am willing to take on.
I don’t typically take shortcuts at the stove (I’ll even make, for example, my
own quince paste), I always opt for prepared pasta and artichokes. Sickles makes
this easy and acceptable as it offers exquisite imported pastas and
oil-preserved artichokes, some, such as Les Moulins Mahjoub artichoke hearts,
are even jarred in extra virgin olive oil (usually they’re packed in a cheaper
oil, like safflower).
To ensure that I
would commit myself to this task, I verbalized that Quick-Braised Baby
Artichokes with Garlic, Mint, and Parsley would be on the menu for the Spanish-themed dinner party that I was hosting for
our church’s curate to tell him about my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
Having said that I would cook them, I couldn’t turn back now! This led to my
procuring 24 baby artichokes from Sickles and then staring at a plastic bag of
them a few hours before the dinner. This was the moment to act.
Rinsing baby artichokes
Trimming artichokes, before & after
In the spirit of new beginnings, which spring represents, I decided to tackle one of these culinary shortcomings. Baby artichokes seemed like the way to go since they, in their diminutive form, are evocative of spring and its busy task of getting everything growing. Overcoming my resistance to making homemade pasta, on the other hand, is more suited to a New Year’s resolution. It’s a laborious process, and special equipment is necessary, and I don’t have it. Maybe I’ll get a pasta maker for Christmas or my birthday--hint, hint! For the artichokes, however, all that’s needed is a sharp knife, as well as a little patience and time.
Prepped baby artichokes in acidulated water to prevent discoloration.
Browning quartered baby artichokes.
Before acting, I got my barrings by looking over Fine Cooking’s tips for trimming artichokes. In essence the instructions are: pull off the dark green outside leaves until you get to the paler ones; trim the stalk; slice off the tips of the artichoke; cut lengthwise into quarters; rub the cut sections with lemon; and toss into a bowl of water with a lemon, cut in half, bobbing in there (the lemon prevents discoloration). Like many things that we avoid, prepping artichokes wasn’t as difficult or time consuming as I had built up in my head. There was, however, a decent amount of waste (all those discarded leaves), but I didn’t feel too bad about it as I put them in the compost. In addition there was the uncertainty of whether I had pulled off the right amount of leaves--too many or not enough. To determine this, I snapped off a promising-looking leaf, cut off its top, and ate it raw. If I didn’t chew on it repeatedly, like a cow its cud, then I knew that I had trimmed the artichoke sufficiently. My other tip is that is worth trying to leave a touch of the base of the leaf on the remaining artichoke, as this is the tasty part.
Trimmings from the pile of baby artichokes, destined for the compost.
The actual cooking wasn’t terribly tricky, and the result was something that you can’t achieve with canned, jarred, or frozen artichokes: browned, toothsome, and full-flavored. Despite how delicious the dish was, there were veggies leftover after the dinner party, which I incorporated into a creamy pasta dish the next night. With the leftover pasta, I folded it into beaten eggs for a frittata.
Farro Salad with Marinated Artichokes, Watercress & Feta
I didn’t stop there. To go a step further and to ensure that my first attempt wasn’t my last, I made my own marinated baby artichokes for a farro salad with feta and watercress. What you gain from this effort is is a more zingy flavor and al dente texture. Prepared ones tend to be a little mushy, and they wouldn’t have provided enough of a textural contrast with the boiled farro and creamy feta.
|Quick-Braised Baby Artichokes with Garlic, Mint & Parsley|
This spring dare to do something new in the kitchen, whether it be artichokes or something else, like the super seasonal fiddlehead ferns (I saute them for omelettes or simmer them in a red Thai curry) or ramps (roast them for crositini or add them to a spring carbonara sauce).
Here’s to new beginnings!
Diana PIttet, the no-longer-artichoke-avoiding cheesemonger