Sunday, 12 April 2009

Artichokes are in season, you know

I was at the wholesalers in St Brieuc on Friday to pick up provisions for both the Tea room and the food I am making for AIKB for Monday's Easter Fair. There in the fruit and veg section were crates of our local Breton globe artichokes, which I just adore.

This is a picture I took at the Pontivy market, the mobile phone camera compression doesn't do the startling purple against the vibrant green any justice. I must go back with my digital camera and try again. But, don't you just love these artichoke cut flowers?

Now, usually, I will just buy a nice plump artichoke, cut off the stem so it sits upright, wash it really well and leave the water in the leaves to aid in the steaming, wrap it in microwave cling-film, set it in a microwave safe bowl to catch the water run off and nuke it for 6-8 minutes or so. You have to let it sit after you take it out for two minutes, still wrapped in the plastic wrap to finish the cooking. It's done when one of the bottom leaves pulls out easily and the flesh is tender. What could be easier for a quick snack? I am very happy eating this with some Best Foods (or Hellmann’s) mayonnaise or just some lemon mixed into softened demi-sel butter or even Beurre Blanc, if I'm feeling adventurous (and not lazy.)

However, sometimes you want something a bit more chi-chi for dinner guests; so, may I recommend this excellent recipe I use from Gourmet magazine?

Whole Stuffed Artichokes Braised in White Wine by Marie Miraglia
(With commentary and additions by Kitty)
Makes 4 first-course servings.
From Gourmet Magazine March 2002

If you have a pressure cooker (and I just bought myself one for my birthday, stainless steel, and it’s big enough to can in,) then by all means, do the artichokes in there! It takes a fraction of the time (1/5, for the pedants) and the leaves get so tender... Mmmmm. You can make the stuffing the day before and just keep it covered and chilled in the fridge. The fiddly bit is trimming and you need to do that either just before you cook them or do as I do and trim them and then place in a large pot of salted, well-acidulated water. (That’s half a handful of sea salt and the juice of a big lemon [or 4-5 Tablespoons if using squirty lemon juice] in 3-5 litres of water.) Weigh the artichokes down with a plate and a heavy can or two of something and place the lot in the fridge overnight. If I get an artichoke that is slightly past its prime, I do the same salty-lemon water thing and it plumps it right back up.

OK, stuffing the artichokes is pretty fiddly too, but, Oooh! Is it ever worth it!

For stuffing artichokes:
2 cups fine fresh bread crumbs from an Italian loaf or ‘pain’ (4 oz)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Parmesan Cheese (1 1/2 oz)
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup minced sweet soppressata (dried Italian sausage; 1 1/4 oz)
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon sea salt (Only ever use sea salt! How many times have I told you?)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
4 medium artichokes (8 to 9 oz each)
1 lemon, halved
4 thin slices provolone cheese

For cooking artichokes:
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Special equipment: a melon-ball cutter; a 6- to 8-quart pressure cooker or a wide 4- to 6-quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid

Make stuffing:
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Spread breadcrumbs in a shallow baking pan and bake in middle of oven until pale golden, about 10 minutes. Cool crumbs completely, and then toss with parmesan, garlic, parsley, soppressata, zest, salt, and pepper. Drizzle oil over crumbs and toss to coat evenly.

Trim and stuff artichokes:
Cut off artichoke stems and discard. Cut off top 1/2 inch of one artichoke with a serrated knife, then cut about 1/2 inch off all remaining leaf tips with sturdy kitchen shears. Rub cut edges of leaves with a lemon half.
Separate leaves slightly with your thumbs and pull out purple leaves from centre and enough yellow leaves to expose fuzzy choke. Scoop out choke with melon-ball cutter, and then squeeze some lemon juice into cavity. Trim remaining artichokes in same manner.

(If the artichokes have spent the night in the fridge, turn them upside down and let them drain for five minutes or so. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice to the centre cavity.)

Spoon about 2 tablespoons stuffing into centre cavity of each artichoke and, starting with bottom leaves and spreading leaves open as much as possible without breaking, spoon a rounded 1/2 teaspoon stuffing inside each leaf. Top each artichoke with a slice of provolone.

Cook artichokes:
Put water, wine, oil, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper in pressure cooker (without insert) or pot and arrange stuffed artichokes in liquid in one layer.
Seal pressure cooker with lid and cook at high pressure, according to manufacturer's instructions, 10 minutes. Put pressure cooker in sink (do not remove lid) and run cold water over lid until pressure goes down completely.
If using a regular pot, simmer artichokes, covered, until leaves are tender, about 50 minutes.
Transfer artichokes with tongs to four soup plates and spoon cooking liquid around them.
I will happily eat this as a light lunch in summer with some chewy, slow-ferment rye or pain de campagne and demi-sel butter, a glass of Pinot Grigio and a perfectly ripe white peach for dessert.
Bon appétit!


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Comments are the clotted cream and fresh strawberry jam on the freshly-baked scones of my thoughts. Thank you for them, they're delicious!