17 September 2009

Mischievous...delicious thing

Artichoke, you are a mischievous, mischievous thing! I thought you were sanely priced, so I ordered 1.5 kilo of your thorny buds, to the vegetable’s man enthusiasm that I hadn’t witnessed before. I didn’t quite get why he insisted to know if I was absolutely sure I wanted that much. Little did I know, artichoke, that my wallet would have to divorce from 22.50 euro to pay, I’ll repeat, for 1.5 kilo of yourself. Now tell me why would you wear the wrong-price tag (3 euro/1 kilo) the other day? No really, that’s what I call cheating, artichoke. You’ve got to know your manners are disgraceful.

Also, I hear you thought I wouldn’t spend thirty minutes bent over a kitchen sink denuding you from your tough outer layers, your tight suits of armour. I feel upset you underestimate me so, artichoke, because I didn’t take a short cut to trim you, not at all. And get this: I even didn’t shriek with horror after I found the skin on my fingers had taken on the colour of your purple leaves. And that, artichoke, is what nice people call grace and all.

Actually, I don’t hold any grudges against you, artichoke. It’s nearly impossible to, for you are a delicious, delicious snob. Curious what I made with you? I’ll tell you – Artichokes Provencal braise (recipe by Mark Bittman, if you want to know).

I sent you, artichoke, in a hot pan, together with garlic, black olives and tomatoes, where you spent twenty minutes or so mellowing under a lid, relaxing. You may not know, artichoke, but this is how deliciousness tastes (hear me out, that’s important!): halves of garlic, deeply caramelized, almost like candies, sweet and sticky; creamy, tamed by heat black olives; tiny tomatoes, collapsed in a juicy mess; and of course, you, artichoke, soft, silky, faintly sweet, mysterious.

In short, there is no better foil to enjoy September days -- now misty, now crystal clear but already crisp -- than to have sun on the plate, for that’s what this dish is – sun and warmth and, again, deliciousness. To think, artichokes are in season again (early autumn), so why not?

Artichokes Provencal Braise
Adapted from Mark Bittman

Yields: 4 first-course servings or as a main for 2 people

Dear Reader, I think you will agree that pleasure doesn’t have to cost fortunes. So: just don’t buy purple artichokes (unless you feel like splurging), that’s all. Those are painfully expensive, is what I learnt. Ideally, try to find decent, green-coloured artichokes; these chaps, I reckon, won’t cheat you, price-wise, that is. On second thought, frozen artichoke hearts will also do the great job here; this way you even won’t have to spend ages trimming away their layers, which also can be treacherous (see above).

20-25 small artichokes, trimmed
5 large garlic cloves, halved
1 cup black (preferably Kalamata) olives, pitted
1 tsp salt
8 ounces (250 gr) mini tomatoes
1/3 cup water
2 Tbsp olive oil for cooking
Flat-leaf parsley for garnishing

1. Break off tough outer leaves of the artichokes (if you work with purple artichokes, you may want to wear rubber gloves – purple artichoke can colour your fingers). With a sharp paring knife, cut off the dark green parts of the stem and trim the base; pare away the top of the artichokes to about 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the base.

2. Over medium heat, warm 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick pan. Add the artichokes, along with the garlic cloves. Cook for about 5-7 mins, turning the artichokes over -- use tongs for this -- as they start to brown, after first 3-4 mins or so.

3. Add the olives, salt, and tomatoes. Shake the pan slightly to mix. Pour the water, cover, and cook over medium heat for about 20-25 mins, or until the artichokes are very tender. To check for doneness, insert the tip of a knife into an artichoke; it’s ready when the knife doesn’t meet any resistance. (If the liquid is evaporated and the artichokes aren’t done yet, add more water – a couple tablespoons at a time).

4. Garnish with flat-leaf parsley and serve.

‘This, and half a loaf of bread, what a lunch!’ says Mr. Bittman. Indeed!

I can also add it tastes great the next day too, cold, right out of the fridge. There, I said it.


Tiina said...

Fabulous post! You should ask your professors to give you some credits for this text! And the picture on top is simply gorgeous.

Have a nice weekend!


Ruth bragg said...

I have to admit that even after years of cooking I have never attempted any recipes with artichokes. Maybe it has something to do with the plain home cooking I was raised with but your the recipe you have here has made me decided to jump in with both feet.
Seriously, garlic, olives, tomatoes and artichokes, what could be better.
I love catching up on your tasty trials,

Anya said...

Tiina, to hear that you liked the text, yourself being a professional (literally), and passionate, reader, is enough for me to keep on. :) Thank you!

Ruth, I first tried artichokes here in Holland, last winter or so. In Russia, they don't enjoy much popularity among the folks -- almost nobody, or so I think, knows about these thorny beggars. And yes, the recipe is incredulously simple. The whole business, I swear, tastes of sunshine and summer. Oh summer...