RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

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RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Jul 20, 2006 9:47 am

<table border="0" align="right" width="190"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/artichokes.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Baby artichokes

I love artichokes. I love the way they taste, and I love the way they look, piled high in mounds of green, softball-size spheres in the grocery store.

When they're in season - a season that modern transportation has extended far beyond the traditional March through May and again in October - I can't resist buying 'em by the sack.

But then they usually languish until they turn black and have to be discarded, because once I've got them in the fridge, they seem too much trouble to deal with. All that peeling, all that cutting! Most of the thing goes to waste, and you've got to fight that awful fuzzy middle bit that's so appropriately named "choke."

Maybe I should simply resist my artichoke craving until I can get to an Italian or Greek restaurant and pay them to do it right. But still I persevere, throwing away a lot of perfectly good artichokes or giving it up and making them the easy, old-fashioned way, simmering them until soft, then chewing the meaty bites off the bottoms of the leaves with some kind of '60s-style chip dip.

This week, though, confronted with a particularly appealing display of tiny baby artichokes not much bigger than lemons, I had a breakthrough. Remembering to my joy that these undersize babies are relatively easy to prep because they don't have an inedible "choke" or nearly so many tough leaves, I came up with a memorable pasta dish that brings together artichokes and tiny new potatoes and more goodies from the garden.

And best of all, it didn't take all day to turn those thorny green balls into tender, savory bites.

I'm indebted to the California Artichoke Advisory Board for a useful set of instructions - with photos - that makes prepping artichokes relatively easy, and also for providing me the useful information that the artichoke is a kind of Mediterranean thistle, related to the sunflower, and that the part we eat is really the flower. Or that artichokes - not unlike shrimp - are graded by size, from petite (72 to a carton) to jumbo (18 to a carton). The things we learn on the Internet.

In Italy, artichokes are considered a great appetizer because they supposedly make whatever food they're served with seem sweet. For this reason, they're also allegedly difficult to match with wine. I can't say I've ever found this a problem, though, and certainly this dish went down easily with a crisp, dry Prosecco. It makes a fine meatless summer dinner, taking full advantage of the garden's bounty.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

6 small artichokes
Water
1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon (5g) salt
6 small red or white new potatoes
1/2 cup (120g) chopped onion
1 or 2 large cloves garlic
3 fresh plum tomatoes
4 ounces (120g) farfalle</i> (butterfly pasta)
2 tablespoons (30g) olive oil
Salt
Black pepper
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
12 leaves fresh basil

PROCEDURE:

1. Prepare the artichokes. For a useful how-to guide, see the procedure and photos featured in steps 14 through 18 ("[Completely Edible] Baby Artichokes") on the California Artichoke Advisory Board's Website at http://artichokes.org/basic_prep.html. Snap off all the outer petals at the base until you get down to the tender yellowish leaves inside; then cut off and discard the tough green top and the stem. Cut the remaining heart vertically into quarters, scraping off any fuzzy "choke" in the center (in baby artichokes, there shouldn't be much, if any). Put the cut pieces into a saucepan half-filled with cool water "acidulated" with the juice of 1/2 lemon so they won't discolor.

2. Slice the potatoes fairly thin, about 1/4 inch or 0.6cm (there's no need to peel them) and place them in the same water with the artichokes.

3. Add 1 teaspoon salt to the water in the pan with the artichokes and potatoes. Bring the vegetables to a boil, then reduce heat and cook at a gentle simmer for 10 minutes or less, checking frequently; when the potatoes and artichoke hearts are just crisp-tender, drain and "shock" them with cold water so they won't cook further.

4. While the vegetables are simmering, chop the onion coarsely and mince the garlic fine. Peel and seed the plum tomatoes and cut them into chunks. Slice the basil leaves into a fine chiffonade and set aside.

5. Start the pasta cooking in boiling salted water. While it boils, sautee the chopped onions and garlic in the olive oil until they're translucent. Add the cooked artichokes and potatoes and stir gently, to avoid breaking up the vegetables, until they just start to brown. Put in the tomatoes and, if necessary, just enough water to keep things from sticking. Season with salt and pepper to taste and keep warm over low heat. When the pasta is finished, drain it and mix it in with the vegetables. Serve in warm bowls, topped with grated Pecorino Romano and the basil chiffonade.

<B>MATCHING WINE:</b>
I don't see the artichokes marrying well with a red, but this should work well with a fuller-bodied white from Southern Italy or the Rhone; it was brilliant with a Northern Italian bubbly, the Bortolotti Valdobbiadene Prosecco featured in the July 17 <I>30 Second Wine Advisor</I>.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby ChefCarey » Thu Jul 20, 2006 11:32 am

Good stuff, Robin. The artichoke is among the top four or five of my favorite vegetables. I don't consider them too much trouble to deal with. My children have been wrestling with them from a very young age.

A little more lore: Artichokes werew first grown in this country in Louisiana - which produced artichokes commercially up until WWII. Production did not resume after the war. But, this accounts for the seemingly disproportionate number of artichokes found in Creole recipes.

It is a tradition for those of Italian extraction in New Orleans to make stuffed artichokes for what I consider to be one of the most important days of the year, March 19, St. Joseph's Day.

On the short drive from Pigeon Point to Pescadero one is *surrounded* by artichokes. Used to get the freshest Pigeon Point oysters, then drive into Pescadero for artichokes (and Cioppino at Duarte's.)

Oh, yeah, the chemical in them is cyanin (from Latin for, oddly enough, "artichoke") and in Sicily there is a liqueur called "Cynar" made from them. We always served them as appetizers in California firmly believing they made everything one ate after taste better.

I have a recipe for the New Orleans stuffed artichoke (and a photo) in Creole Nouvelle.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Jul 20, 2006 11:57 am

ChefCarey wrote:Good stuff, Robin. The artichoke is among the top four or five of my favorite vegetables. I don't consider them too much trouble to deal with. My children have bee wrestling with them from a very young age.


Thanks for the additional commentary, Joseph ... having built-in sous chefs at home definitely helps with labor-intensive chores!

I didn't know about the Louisiana artichoke country ... California claims to have 99 percent of US production now, virtually all of it around Castroville in northern Monterey County. I've driven through there in season, and it's amazing to drive by mile after mile of artichoke fields as far as the eye can see.

I didn't realize Cynar was Sicilian specifically, but it used to be very popular all over Italy, in cafes and also on cafe umbrellas. :) I've tried it once or twice over there and liked it well enough, but rumor has it that they're making it a much sweeter liqueur than it used to be.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby ChefCarey » Thu Jul 20, 2006 1:04 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
ChefCarey wrote:Good stuff, Robin. The artichoke is among the top four or five of my favorite vegetables. I don't consider them too much trouble to deal with. My children have bee wrestling with them from a very young age.


Thanks for the additional commentary, Joseph ... having built-in sous chefs at home definitely helps with labor-intensive chores!

I didn't know about the Louisiana artichoke country ... California claims to have 99 percent of US production now, virtually all of it around Castroville in northern Monterey County. I've driven through there in season, and it's amazing to drive by mile after mile of artichoke fields as far as the eye can see.

I didn't realize Cynar was Sicilian specifically, but it used to be very popular all over Italy, in cafes and also on cafe umbrellas. :) I've tried it once or twice over there and liked it well enough, but rumor has it that they're making it a much sweeter liqueur than it used to be.


Yep, just about all artichokes produced in the US come from California now. In the BayArea (north of Castroville) where I lived for 16 years, artichokes can be seen growing wild all over the hillsides during the winter months. Don't believe these volunteers have many desirable culinary qualities, though.

I grew them in my garden - although I was just a tad too far inland (artichokes need the coastal climate) successfully. They were great, just a little on the small side.

I used to shop for them at the Oakland produce market in the morning, too. Although I went quite early - around 5:30 - sometimes I got there too late. I managed to cultivate a number of friends, though, by forcing myself to go into the bar where all the produce workers had their after work cocktails at 6:00 am. Most of these guys were Italian and we got along great - except for them getting me to try Fernet Branca early one morning.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby Howard » Thu Jul 20, 2006 6:37 pm

I love artichokes. Can't get enough of them. Thanks for another way to make them.

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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby Jenise » Fri Jul 21, 2006 6:35 pm

Nice article, Robin. Like Joseph, I consider artichokes one of my favorite vegetables, and I cook and eat more artichokes than anyone I know. Several a week during the season, which I wrap individually and refrigerate, serving as first courses at dinner if any survive my lunches.

So, a few comments from an artichokehead: baby artichokes (2" size) indeed don't have much of a choke, or it's immature and not yet fuzzy. If it's not fuzzy, it's edible so no need to remove, it will 'cook'.

I make a recipe very similar to this that I found in the Union Square Cafe cookbook--potatoes and baby artichokes with various seasonings, basically cooked together until the water evaps out and leaves just enough to be a tasty sauce. They all it a 'ragout'. Very unintuitive to me to combine potatoes and artichokes as there's no similarity between the flavors and textures and cooking times, but darn it works beautifully.

Re wine, I agree wine works just fine, it's just that you probably want to hold back the good stuff. Inexpensive pinot noirs and chardonnays, the type that are typically a bit woody, work quite well.
Last edited by Jenise on Sat Jul 22, 2006 11:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby Stuart Yaniger » Fri Jul 21, 2006 8:58 pm

Wild artichokes grow around here. A lot of work, not much meat, and mediocre flavor. For once, the cultivated version is much better.

With a little practice, you can trim/prep artichokes very rapidly, so there's no excuse!

I do a very simple appetizer with the baby ones: trim the outer leaves brutally, peel the stem and base, quarter lengthwise, then fry in olive oil along with some lemon slices until just beginning to brown. Drain, salt, and serve with a very crisp Italian white (no oak for this prep!). The Other Stupid and I can't make this often enough. Traci has admitted that she's sick of artichoke now; it must be a man thing.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Jul 21, 2006 10:12 pm

Jenise wrote:Very unintuitive to me to combine potatoes and artichokes as there's no similarity between the flavors and textures and cooking times, but darn it works beautifully.


I guess I should have known there's nothing new under the sun, but I swear I didn't know USC had beaten me to the concept. ;-) I looked at the artichokes and the new potatoes, and the broad concept jumped right into my head. For some reason, the combination of flavors just seemed right, but the textures didn't until I came up with the idea of slicing the potatoes into thin rounds, taking care not to overcook them so they still had a little al-dente firmness. And then the rectangular farfalle pasta put the icing on the cake, texture-wise, and the fresh tomatoes were the finishing touch. I was very, very happy with this dish.

Re wine, don't put your best wines with artichokes, but don't buy into the notion that wine and artichokes don't work. In fact they work well--and artichokes LOVE oak. Inexpensive pinot noirs and chardonnays, the type that typically have a lot of fruit and oak, are the best choices.


I agree. "Don't mix wine and artichokes" is such a widespread rule of thumb that I thought I should mention it. No oak in the Prosecco, but it was still a fine match.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Jul 21, 2006 10:14 pm

Stuart Yaniger wrote:With a little practice, you can trim/prep artichokes very rapidly, so there's no excuse!


Yessir! :oops:

[quoteI do a very simple appetizer with the baby ones: trim the outer leaves brutally, peel the stem and base, quarter lengthwise, then fry in olive oil along with some lemon slices until just beginning to brown. Drain, salt, and serve [/quote]

Oh, man! I am so <i>there</i> ...
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby Stuart Yaniger » Fri Jul 21, 2006 10:40 pm

BTW, I'm totally with you on the Prosecco. And, interestingly, I've had a mixed potato-artichoke puree at Pyramide. Basically, it was a butter delivery system.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Jul 21, 2006 11:02 pm

Stuart Yaniger wrote:Basically, it was a butter delivery system.


<homer>Mmmm, butter ... </homer>
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby ChefCarey » Fri Jul 21, 2006 11:07 pm

Stuart Yaniger wrote:BTW, I'm totally with you on the Prosecco. And, interestingly, I've had a mixed potato-artichoke puree at Pyramide. Basically, it was a butter delivery system.


The place I mentioned in my earlier post, Duarte's in Pescadero, had a wonderful puree of artichoke and mushroom soup. Nothing like Pyramide. Formica counters, funky, down home, stools, booths and just good food.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Baby artichokes

Postby Chris » Thu Jul 27, 2006 1:32 pm

Late to the baby artichoke party, but when I'm cleaning a bunch of these for risotto, I don't discard the stems. I peel them and dice them up, adding them to the acidulated water in which I'm keeping the rest of the artichokes I've cleaned by removing all of the leaves until I get to the "squeak", topping and quartering them, and then slicing them thinly before tossing them into the water.

I made this risotto for the first time at La Divina Cucina's cooking class in Florence a few springtimes ago. We used Gabriele Ferron's rice (Riso Vialone Nano Ferron), did not use broth or stock - only water and wine - letting the aromatics (garlic & lemon thyme) season the rice. No stirring until the end when a bit more water, some wine, and some Parmesan were added. Best risotto I've ever had.

Here's a page from Judy's web site that addresses artichokes. I could go for a plate of the thinly sliced artichokes dressed with lemon, olive oil, and parmesan right about now.

http://www.divinacucina.com/code/leo.html
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