I’m going to piss off the gods of SEO by devoting this paragraph to saying thank you, everyone, for the comments and email expressing concern for the people of Boston. If we did not feel under siege this week, it was due in part to the outpouring of support from the rest of the country. Donations to help families hurt by the Marathon bombings may be made at The One Fund, the charity established by Boston mayor Tom Menino and Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. There’s talk of Boston area restaurants planning a fund-raiser whose proceeds will go directly to The One Fund. I’ll post details as they become available.
A culinary parlor game is being played in Boston kitchens right now: What did you eat while you were “sheltering in?”* I survived until Friday on leftover halibut risotto and grilled vegetables, but on Friday Jody and Roxanne returned from New York just in time to join the prep for dinner with our downstairs neighbors, who contributed fruit salad and a batch of excellent homemade ribs. For our part, I defrosted and grilled some Italian sausage while Jody managed to tangram a Puglian Barley Salad from pieces scavenged from our depleted larder. In the absence of barley she pressure-cooked some wheat berries and used those instead. Wheat berries, we discovered, are almost as good in this context as the chewy heirloom Puglian barley in the original recipe.
So what’s up this week? Braised Artichokes with Mozzarella, Tomatoes and Mint. Spring has arrived, and with it truckloads of fat green globe artichokes. No groaning (Oh, god, not artichokes, they’re such a pain…). No, they’re not, and if we learned anything at all from recent events it’s that the small gestures we take for granted are more precious than ever. You only know what you’ve got when it’s gone, so start snapping off those leaves.
With our hopes for baby artichokes dashed more often than a clove of garlic in a Provençal mortar, Jody manned up and prepared this dish with regular artichokes. You can prepare it with babies, if you got ’em (same prep; skip scooping out the choke – everything is edible). If, perchance, your artichokes are poets and don’t know it (because their stems are long fellows), consider yourself blessed. The stems are a bonus, almost as delicious as the hearts, and need only be peeled and rubbed with lemon before being added to the pan with the full-size artichoke halves. Enjoy. Ken
*Sheltering in was the term used by Governor Patrick for the stay-at-home-indoors policy in effect from Thursday until 6:00 pm Friday.
BRAISED ARTICHOKES, MOZZARELLA, TOMATOES AND MINT
Makes 4 servings
- 1 lemon, scrubbed
- 8 baby artichokes, or 2 large ones (about 10 ounces)
- 1 orange, scrubbed
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 shallots or 1 small onion, chopped into ¼-inch dice
- Kosher salt
- 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons rinsed capers
- ¼ teaspoon garum or Asian fish sauce
- 3-4 fresh bay leaves
- 4-6 small cherry tomatoes
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 cup baby arugula, mache, or other small flavorful lettuce leaves
- 20 or so mint leaves, cut into very thin threads
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces fresh artisanal mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼-inch slices
- Coarse sea salt
- Remove the zest from the lemon in strips ½-inch wide. Cut the lemon in half and use it to rub the cut parts of the artichoke when trimming. Trim the artichokes by snapping off the outer leaves until the leaves are pale green-yellow. Peel the stem. Trim the base around the stem, then trim the sides of the base. Slice off the top third of the artichoke. Rub all of the cut surfaces with lemon as you roll along to keep everything from oxidizing (turning brown). Look at the photos if this doesn’t make sense to you. If you prep the artichokes ahead, store them in water acidulated with the juice of the second lemon half.
- Remove the zest from half the orange in strips ½-inch wide. Save the orange for another use or simply eat it.
- Heat the oil and the shallots or onions in a large non-reactive pan over medium heat and season with salt. The pan should be large enough to hold the artichokes in one layer. Cook the onions until transparent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it releases its perfume, another minute or so.
- Reduce the heat to low and add the strips of lemon and orange zest, hot red pepper flakes, capers, garum and bay leaves to the oil. Add the artichokes, cut side down, and ¼ cup water.
- Cover with a circle of parchment and then a lid and simmer 10 minutes. Flip them over and continue cooking until the artichokes are tender when pierced with a knife. Check after 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow everything to cool in the oil.
- When cool to handle, remove the lemon and orange zests and slice into julienned strips.
- Remove the artichokes from the oil. Scoop out the chokes (don’t bother if you’re using babies). Slice each half lengthwise into 2 pieces.
- Cut the tomatoes into ¼-inch wedges and put into a small bowl. Add the scallion, some of the julienned zest, mint, and arugula or other greens. Using a slotted spoon, scoop 2 tablespoons of the onion, caper mixture out of the artichoke oil, and add to the salad, along with a squeeze of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Toss well, then taste. Add a bit more lemon if necessary. It all depends on the sugar-acid balance in the tomatoes.
- To serve, arrange 2 artichoke quarters (or the equivalent in baby halves) on each of 4 salad plates. Put a few slices of cheese next to the artichokes. Sprinkle the cheese with sea salt. Drizzle some of the caper-onion mix over the artichokes. Spoon the salad around the plate and serve immediately.
I know, I know… this is a lot of olive oil. Don’t worry, you can save the leftovers. Use a good quality extra virgin olive oil, but not one that will break the bank. The oil never gets hot enough to ruin the flavor, and the end result is a yummy artichoke-infused oil that you can keep in the fridge and drizzle over anything. You may be tempted to make the artichokes again just to have some of the oil in the fridge.
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