Who was the first brave soul to tackle an artichoke? I ponder this every time nowadays, when I find myself trimming, pulling, and scraping the prickly vegetable. And while I might never find out the daring gourmand who is responsible for this bounty, I am certainly grateful – artichokes are delicious and are totally worth the trouble they give.
I’m a fairly new to making artichokes at home. Like many of you out there, I suspect, I’ve always been intimidated by them. I’d be at the grocery store, holding them in my hand, and then I’d place them back – they didn’t seem all that friendly and looked like a lot of work. Sometimes, when I wasn’t careful, I’d accidentally hook the tip of my finger on one of the sharp leaves. Once or twice, my fingers bled. How many vegetables can you say are actively out to get you? Artichokes were clearly sending a message – do not eat me.
But along came the wonderful Melissa Clark of the New York Times and Gilt Taste fame (who’s graciously allowed me to help out here and there), and showed us all in a must-see video (which I got to watch while it was taping) on how to clean, trim, wrangle, and even cook the pesky choke. And suddenly the clouds parted, the angel voices sung, and it became oh-so-clear to me that I’ve been missing out on years of delicious artichoke consumption at home. Needless to say that for the next few weeks artichokes were ever-present at our dinner table in various variations.
But my favorite artichoke dish is also one of the simplest – carciofi alla Romana – otherwise known as artichokes braised in wine and olive oil.* To prepare it, the artichokes are trimmed, cleaned, relieved of the choke, and stuffed with an herb-oil mixture, before the vegetables are then gently braised in white wine and olive oil. I try to get it whenever I see it on the menu. Recently, I’ve become quite fond of the version made by Broken English, a nearby restaurant in Cobble Hill.
For my version, I decided to brighten up the herb mixture with a spoon of lemon zest, and swap in a crisp and fragrant rose in lieu of the usual dry white wine. I placed the prepared artichokes in the pot, making sure they were nice and snug in there, added my liquids, covered the pot, and then waited a seemingly endless hour.
When the artichokes finally emerged from their luxurious bath, they were transformed – more olive in color and all softened-up, they slumped pleasantly on a plate as if they were finally wearied by the heat and succumbed to its powers. I couldn’t resist a delicate drizzle of olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice before devouring my portion – the artichoke’s sweetness was bolder and brighter this way.
A few extra minutes of effort and a little bit of patience – all worth it in the end. Artichokes may seem unapproachable at first, but it’s all a show – what they really want is a place alongside other vegetables, despite their spiky appearance.
* As Luisa correctly pointed out (thank you!) and what I meant to say – the preparation method hails from the Rome, not that it’s from ancient Rome, per se. Thanks, Luisa!
Carciofi Alla Romana
It’s rather intimidating trimming artichokes for the first time, which is why I think that the video I recommend above is a must-see. Melissa puts all your anxieties to rest with a simple, how-to instruction. Keep in mind that you must work quickly and dip your artichoke in the acidulated water as you are trimming – it shows discoloration in no time. But in the end, the whole mess winds up in the pot and turns olive-green, so don’t worry too much about it upon your first time. Lastly, remember when cleaning the choke, if you stick your finger inside the artichoke to feel if any choke is left, feel for the fuzzy stuff – if you feel it, you still have some work to do. Otherwise, your artichoke has been properly cleaned. In case you don’t watch the video, Melissa recommends a grapefruit spoon to get rid of the choke and I find that it works miracles!
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/3 cup dry white or rose wine
1/2 cup boiling water
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. In a small bowl, combine the parsley, mint, garlic, zest salt, and 2 tablespoons olive oil.
2. Fill a large bowl with cold water and add juice of 1 freshly squeezed lemon. Remove the outer leaves of the artichoke and trim the tip so that you could see the center. Pull out the purple leaves and scrape out the choke with a spoon. While trimming the artichoke, dip it in the acidulated water to keep the artichoke from discoloration. When done trimming place in the acidulated water.
3. In the cavity of the artichoke from which the choke was removed, place some of the herb mixture – evenly dividing it among the artichokes. Place the artichokes fitted snugly (i.e. they won’t fall over) in a deep pan. Add the wine, boiling water, remaining oil and a pinch of salt. Cover and simmer on the stovetop for 1 hour. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 2 to 4.