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."
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
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.
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Thursday, Juky 20, 2006
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