Monday, March 22, 2010

Roman-Style Braised Artichokes - Hooray for Spring!

Right now, Trader Joe's is selling 4 packs of modest sized artichokes for $3, which seemed like a pretty great deal to me. It's artichoke season - March through May! So it's the right time for them to be delicious.

Usually in our family we just steam or boil artichokes, doing a minimum of trimming, and eat them leaf by leaf, dipping them in either melted butter or mayonnaise (I know, mayonnaise sounds crazy. But it's good, trust me - as long as it's Hellmans/Best Foods), till we get to the utterly delicious heart. Mmm.

For our Mama's birthday dinner though, I thought I'd try something special with them. I used a recipe in a book on Italian country cooking by Anne Willan. It's such a great recipe, there are hardly any ingredients but the flavor is amazing, and it can be made ahead and served at room temperature. It's meant to be an appetizer, but it made a nice accompaniment to the prosciutto and mushroom ravioli we made for the main dish.

you need:
6-8 cloves of garlic
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
8-10 sprigs of mint
salt and pepper
2-3 lemons (I think she calls for 3 to supply garnish... i skipped that)
6-8 young globe artichokes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Now it's time to trim the artichokes - the only tough part to this recipe (you can do it!). Have a big bowl of cold water ready, in which you have squeezed the juice of one lemon - leave the lemon pieces floating in the water. Now the artichoke: You first want to cut off all but 1 1/2 to 2 inches of stem, and if it looks really tough, peel the outside. Then you want to go around and peel back the leaves one by one, trying to leave the base of each leaf (the edible part) behind. Your first go round the artichoke you'll probably want to pull the whole leaf off - the outermost ones are totally tough. Keep going around and around, till you get past the dark green leaves and expose the inner, lighter green ones whose tips are all close together in a cone shape (I didn't go quite far enough in, afraid to waste them, but next time I'll be bolder, because we all ended up with a couple rows of leaves we had to discard for being too fibrous, and the goal here is to trim down till everything is edible).

Now once you're down to the inside cone of more tender leaves, you get a nice sharp knife, and cut that whole cone off, to expose the really short yellow-to-purple leaves with the sharp tips(depending on how old the artichoke is), and the hairy choke. Get a small spoon or a melon baller, and dig out all those sharp little leaves, and every little bit of the hairy choke, until there's a little cavity, all clean, surrounded by nice tender leaves. Rub it all over with one of the halves of lemon, to keep it from turning brown, and then throw it in the lemony water while you finish up the rest of the artichoke trimming.
Phew! I promise, the hard part is over. When that's all done, chop up your garlic, parsley and mint nice and small, and mix it all together in a little bowl.

Now get a nice wide saute pan that has a lid, one that can fit all your artichokes flat side down in one layer. One at a time, pull your artichokes out of the water bath, and fill the cavities with a couple spoonfuls of the garlic and herb mixture, and put them cut side down into the pan. If you have some of the herb mixture left over, sprinkle it on now, or better yet, save it for later.
I had left my stems too long to fit under the lid, so Dad trimmed them off and threw them into the braising liquid, they were delicious little snack nuggets later.
Sprinkle plenty of salt and pepper over the artichokes, then pour over the 1/2 cup of olive oil (really! don't hesitate, it's not too much) and enough cold fresh water to come up the sides of the artichokes about halfway (I also threw in the squeezed out lemon halves from before). Put the lid on the pan, put the pan over medium high heat, and bring it to a boil. When it's boiling, lower the heat and let it simmer, 25 minutes if you have small artichokes like I had, or more, up to 45, if they're big, until they're tender and a knife point goes in easily.

Then (here's a step I forgot to do, and it was totally fine... but I think I would do it next time) move the artichokes out of the pan and onto a serving platter, and reduce the cooking liquid in the pan to about 1 cup. You can add in the remaining herb mixture now if you have any, and once the boiling down has been accomplished and you like lots of lemon, you could add some more fresh lemon juice, maybe 1/2 a lemon's worth. I might even throw in some freshly grated lemon zest next time, but only after the cooking is done.

Pour that beautiful sauce over the artichokes. This dish is ideal at room temperature, making it great for dinner parties, you can make it way ahead. And oh my heavens, the sauce is so good (even if you don't boil it down) - you'll definitely want some crusty bread around for sopping it up - a messy but worthwhile procedure. The leftover sauce (several days later) made a great afternoon snack with bread and a piece a cheese.


  1. whoah. i want to make this! i was just talking to our roommate dylan about wanting to make artichokes...

  2. Can I admit something to you guys? Artichokes are pretty much the only veggie I have trouble with. They're like my Moby Dick.

    I like a nice cold salad with artichoke hearts, but eating the leaves has always left me cold. I feel like this may have to do with the fact that growing up the only recipe my family used was trimming and braising them in plain old water, then serving the leaves with melted butter.

    Maybe this recipe can finally get me over this hurdle.

  3. I also think, biting and scraping the edible part of the leaves is a little... undignified? But not in a good way. It makes a person feel like a hamster, nibbling ineffectually at barely edible food scraps. And I get a little bit of the nails on a chalkboard feeling, from scraping my teeth along the leaf (not to get too graphic here). That said, I'll eat artichokes any way I can get em... but this recipe did solve all the aforementioned problems. I hope you do try it - the trimming is a little bit annoying, but worth it, I think.