“Cooking with Julia” || MAY 2012
This new feature on my blog called “Cooking with Julia” offers a recipe every month for ingredients in season. I’d might as well begin with artichokes, now in their prime, because I love them, probably more than any other vegetable I can think of. Perish the thought of pickled artichokes, frozen artichoke hearts, or the canned variety. You’ll ruin your recipe if you substitute them when the ingredient list calls for fresh. While artichokes can be tedious to clean–what’s required is snapping off the hard part of the leaves and whittling away the tough parts until you get to the tender heart–there isn’t any substitute. With a little practice, you’ll be tearing through the flowers’ armor to the fleshy bracts in no time at all (read the method below). Like me, you just might get hooked on them.
This braising method is how I often cook them, and typical throughout Italy.
Braised Artichokes with Garlic and Parsley
carciofi trifolati – for 2 or 3 people
Recipe from Veneto: Authentic Recipes from Venice and the Italian Northeast by Julia della Croce with photographs by Paolo Destefanis (Chronicle Books, 2003)
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 large artichokes, about 1/2 pound each
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram, or 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 to 3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground white or black pepper
Add water to a depth of about 4 inches to a good-sized glass or ceramic bowl (do not use metal), then add the lemon juice. Trim only a thin slice from the bottom of the stem of each artichoke to remove the dark skin. Pare off all the dark green skin on the stem. (The flesh of the stem is tasty.) With one hand, pull off the tough outer leaves until you reach leaves that have tender, white areas at their base. Using a serrated knife, cut off the upper, dark green part of the inner leaves; leave the light greenish yellow base. The inner rows of leaves are the tender part you want, so be careful not to cut away too much. (If you decide to use baby artichokes, keep in mind that they are more tender, thus there will be fewer tough, outer leaves to remove.) Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and, with a small knife, cut out the hairy choke and any other tough, inner purple leaves. As each artichoke is finished, immediately put it in the waiting lemon water to prevent it from turning brown. (Once cleaned, the artichokes can remain in the lemon water in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.) When all of the artichokes have been trimmed, drain them and pat dry. Place each artichoke half, cut side down, on a cutting board, and cut lengthwise into slices 1/4 inch thick.
In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil and garlic over medium heat and sauté until the garlic is softened, between 1 and 2 minutes. Add the artichokes, parsley, and marjoram and stir with a wooden spoon to coat the artichokes with the oil and garlic. Pour in the 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Add the salt and pepper to taste, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes; the length of time will depend on the freshness of the artichokes. If the artichokes seem to be drying out, add more water. If you think there is too much liquid once the chokes are half-cooked, remove the cover and cook over medium heat until some of it evaporates. Be sure to stir to prevent sticking.
Taste and adjust with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.