For a month now I’ve been seeing artichokes in markets, both “baby” and full-size globes. I love artichokes and last year I became obsessed creating the perfect grilled long-stemmed artichoke, served with lemon and aioli.
During a spring trip to Rome awhile back I was fascinated with artichoke vendors at open air markets sitting atop upended buckets next to their stands, chatting with neighbors and customers, frighteningly indifferent (to me) to the flashy knife work going on in their laps. As they talked, fat green globes whirled in their hands, knives darting here and there, while yellow-green leaves accumulated in piles at their feet. Pale freshly trimmed artichokes bobbed cheerfully alongside lemon halves in buckets of water. Buyers had a choice, ordinary whole artichokes or, for a small premium, those trimmed artichokes already spiffied-up for cooking. Unbelievable. How could you live in Rome and not become an artichoke junkie?
Prepping artichokes is quick and easy work once you know how. The pictures in this week’s post should help. Rub the cut surfaces with a lemon half or they’ll start to brown. Really brown. If you look carefully you can see that even during cooking the halved vegetables retain some of their springy green color. Braised with beans and herbs this dish is one of my favorite ways of eating artichokes, although things can get a little messy. You eat the beans with a fork, but you have to eat the leaves the old-fashioned scrape-with-your-teeth way. You mop up the juices with bread. Fork, leaves, fork, bread, leaves, wine. Go ahead, lick your fingers before you touch your wine again. Or not. We only serve this dish to unfussy people who deserve it.
Artichokes Braised with Anchovies and Preserved Lemon
Makes 6 appetizers, 6 sides, or one glorious summer meal for 2 – 3
- 3 large globe artichokes
- 1 lemon, scrubbed and cut in half
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup onion, chopped into ¼-inch dice
- 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
- Kosher salt
- 6 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped, to yield 1 tablespoon (or use 2 tablespoons garum)
- ½ preserved lemon, cut into quarters, pith removed and skin sliced into thin julienne strips (or use 1 tablespoon lemon zest)
- ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- 1 cup cooked white beans with their liquid
- ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Begin by trimming the artichokes. Snap off the tough outer leaves, continuing until you reach the tender yellow ones, then wack ½ inch or so off the spiny top of each artichoke. Using a sharp paring knife, peel the tough outer layer of the stem and trim the remaining tough dark green ends of the leaves around the base. Cut each artichoke in half and scrape out the choke (the prickly fuzzy interior part) with the edge of a spoon. As you finish with each artichoke rub all of its exposed surfaces with the lemon halves.
Heat the oil and the onions in a large non-reactive pan over medium heat. Cook until the onions are transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it becomes aromatic, around a minute. Stir in the anchovy and the hot red pepper flakes.
Add the trimmed artichokes, cut side up, season with salt and drizzle the cavities with the remaining olive oil. Add 1½ cups water to the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until tender are tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes.
Remove the artichokes from the pan to a platter, cut side up. Return the pan to the heat, add the beans and preserved lemon and cook over medium heat 3 minutes or until thick.
Stir in the parsley and pour over the artichokes. It’s best to let this sit for an hour or so to let the flavors meld. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I ate my first artichoke as a young girl. My mother was an adventurous cook and shopped at Federal Hill, the Italian neighborhood in Providence. If she found artichokes they became the centerpiece of dinner and she only ever served them one way – whole, untrimmed and steamed. Each of us received a whole artichoke and my sisters and I soon learned how to pull away the tough outer leaves without getting a painful jab from the spine on the leaf tips and how to delicately scoop away the choke before eating the heart.
It’s conventional to serve artichokes with a bowl of melted butter, but in our waste-not-want-not Yankee household it was a bowl of warm water with a lick of butter floating on top. Pure butter would have been an unthinkable extravagance, and water is every frugal cook’s helper. Even today I have to take a deep breath when I throw away the leaves which, for the most part, are unusable. Still, good Yankee that I am, I’ve figured out how to make a delicious artichoke cream out of the leaves, a great base for soup or pasta sauce.
Trips to France and Italy have broadened the approach I learned from my mom. In Paris I had a large globe artichoke steamed until al dente and served with aioli; in Rome a little shaved raw artichoke salad with Parmesan and arugula.
A final afterthought: the next time I make this dish I’m going to add a little mint. I think it would be great.