by Kay Baumhefner
To Eat Hot, Cold or Take on a Spring Picnic —
Artichokes are most often simply steamed or boiled whole, which conveniently reserves most of the work (and prolonged anticipation) for when we sit down to eat. Then there’s that gradual process of peeling off each leaf to dip into something saucy before biting down to slide it back out between your teeth. To scrape off the tenderness and cast aside the growing pile of tough remains. It’s like a gustatory dance of the seven veils before we finally get to the heart of the matter, where our prize waits still guarded by a crown of prickly thistle. More bowing and scraping still required before those final glorious bites are revealed. It’s certainly good practice for learning how to slow down and savor each bite. But if you’d rather be able to dive right in for a constant stream of friendly forkfuls, then braising already trimmed wedges is the best way to go about it. Particularly this time of year, when the first flush of baby artichokes floods the marketplace.
Besides making them so much easier to eat, braising just the tender parts both infuses and enhances your artichokes with layers of compatible flavors from the aromatic vegetables and herbs in a warm wine and stock bath. Of course, you first have to trim away all the inedible exterior, but a sharp knife will take care of that while your aromatics are simmering and softening into sweetness. Then the natural acidity in both lemon juice and white wine prevents the exposed flesh from aging prematurely, and braised artichoke hearts won’t later turn blue in the fridge like whole boiled or steamed ones tend to do. That’s because the clear stock reduction sauce provides a protective coating, while also dressing them up with deliciousness. So you can feel free to save the bowls of mayonnaise and melted butter for another dish or day. To eat light now without feeling deprived in any way. Sounds like a good deal to me!
Casual Recipe for Braised Artichokes
NOTE: This recipe is more about method than measurement, so feel free to use more or less of any individual ingredient depending on its availability, your personal preference, or intended use for the completed dish. Proportions can vary anywhere from one part total sliced aromatic vegetables per four parts trimmed artichoke wedges up to equal parts of each.
You’ll Need …
- spring onions or leeks
- green garlic (or peeled cloves)
- baby carrots
- fennel (optional)
- baby golden beets (optional)
- olive oil
- bay leaf
- sea salt & black pepper
- baby artichokes
- a lemon or two
- chicken stock (or vegetable stock or water)
- dry white wine
and maybe …
- some fresh peas
- and mint leaves
To Make …
- Peel as needed and slice all the vegetables except the artichokes.
- Cook these aromatic vegetables with the olive oil and herbs in a heavy, non-reactive skillet over medium heat for about 10 minutes to evenly coat and soften. Season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, trim the artichokes [see below], immediately immersing each batch of wedges into a bowl of cold water with fresh lemon juice.
- Drain and stir all the prepared artichokes into the aromatic vegetables to evenly mix, and then immediately add enough stock and wine (roughly equal amounts) just to cover.
- Raise the heat to quickly bring to the boil, then cover and reduce to simmer gently until barely tender (5-15 minutes, depending on size of pieces).
- Uncover, add the optional peas, and raise the heat to briefly reduce the liquids until syrupy. Don’t overcook.
- Taste for seasoning, add the optional chopped mint leaves (fennel fronds or parsley), and serve or save for later.
and Play with …
To Trim the Artichokes: Pull off and discard all the tough outer leaves. Cut straight across the pointed leaf top of each artichoke to remove most of the prickly tips. Then place cut side down on the board to cut diagonally down toward the center, circling around the artichoke to remove all the tougher, dark green parts so that only the tender, pale green core of leaves remain on top of the stem. Trim off the stem bottom ends and outer layer. Cut each artichoke heart into small, bite-sized wedges (and remove any prickly thistles that may have formed inside larger artichokes).
Use Hot, Cold, or Picnic Temperature …
- All by itself
- As an appetizer with focaccia and olives
- With crusty bread, cheese and salumi
- Alongside chilled asparagus and prosciutto
- Inside almost any kind of sandwich [except peanut butter]
- With green, wax, romano or shell beans
- In rice dishes
- On grilled fish and seafood
- With roast chicken and creamy polenta
- As a side dish [with grilled lamb, new potatoes and creamed leeks]
- As a sauce for angel hair pasta with parmigiano-reggiano and another drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil… [That’s what I was making it for in the photographs below, so I added a more generous amount of both stock and wine than I would have for a less saucy use.]
Now what will you make and use it in, on, for and/or with? Please share your own inspirations with the rest of us in the comments box below.
Bon Appetit! — Kay
Post originally published April 2, 2013 on Come Home to Cooking.