Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Hearty Artichoke

I think I was about 5 when my parents put a giant thistle on my dinner plate and expected me to eat it.  I looked around the table at all their excited faces and knew I was missing something.  I was known for my stubbornness even then, so I’m sure I put up quite a fight over eating that weird looking green thing on my plate.  But Mom must have won because after that dinner, I couldn’t wait to eat another artichoke.  

Artichokes are a thistle from the Sunflower family.  It’s a spiky vegetable with sturdy leaves that are peeled away, dipped in melted butter and scraped between your teeth.  And after all those leaves are peeled away and eaten  you find yourself at the  heart, which has a creamy, rich and complex flavor that makes it all worth the effort.    Almost all commercially grown artichokes are from California and in fact Marilyn Monroe was the first official artichoke queen in 1949.

Artichokes are found fresh in the produce aisle or canned in water or oil, and are as versatile as they are strange looking.  In their fresh form the flavor alternates between slightly nutty leaves and a creamy heart.  Canned, they have a slightly different texture and take on the flavor of the dish they are included in.  If artichokes are new to you, I highly recommend that you eat a fresh one before you decide whether you like them or not.   Here are some delectable recipes to try. 

Garlic Steamed Artichokes
  • 2 large globe artichokes (1 lb each)
  • 1 lemon, cut into quarters
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup white wine  or 1 cup water
  • 5 tablespoons  butter,  melted
  • your favorite hot sauce
Cut off the stems of the artichokes.  With a sharp knife cut off the top 1/3 of the artichoke.  Immediately rub the cuts with a lemon quarter, squeezing a little juice on the cuts to keep it from turning brown.  Now cut each artichoke in half through the stem, from the top to the bottom. Use a spoon and/or a knife to completely remove the hairy choke and all the prickly purple leaves inside the artichoke.  Melt the 3 tablespoons butter in a large sauté  pan.  Add the garlic and sauté over medium low heat to flavor the butter.  Arrange the artichoke halves cut side down in the pan.  Sauté for about 5 minutes or so, until just lightly browned.  Add the wine and the seasonings. Reduce heat to very low, cover the pan, and let cook for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Check the pan after 10 minutes to make sure there is enough liquid to prevent burning.  Add more wine/water if needed.   Test the doneness of the artichokes by piercing with a fork.  It should penetrate easily.  Serve the artichoke halves with the rest of the melted butter in a small dish and flavored with as many dashes of hot sauce as you like.  Dip the leaves and the delicious heart in the butter and enjoy.

Mediterranean Pasta
(from Food 911 chef Tyler Florence)

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast,  sliced diagonally
  • 1 (8 1/2 ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 lb angel hair pasta
  • 1/4 cup fresh bail
  • 1 (8 1/2 ounce) can water packed artichoke hearts,  quartered and drained
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted (1/4 pound)
  • 6 ounces feta cheese,  crumbled
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper, to taste  
Boil water for pasta.  Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Brown chicken strips until no longer pink-about 3 minutes each side.  Add sun-dried tomatoes and garlic to skillet.  Sauté for 2 minutes.  In the meantime, add the pasta to boiling water, cook until al dente, about 5 minutes.  Now add the basil, artichoke hearts, olives and feta cheese to the skillet.  Sauté 1 minute, then stir in the cream.  Strain the pasta and transfer to a large pasta bowl.  Add the chicken sauté to the pasta and toss.  Season with oregano, salt and pepper before serving.

Pesto Artichoke Spinach Lasagna
  • 1 cup pesto (prepared or fresh)
  • 1/2 cup pasta sauce
  • 4 ounces cream cheese,  softened
  • 1 cup sour cream  
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 (13 3/4 ounce) can artichokes
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomato, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh parmesan, divided
  • 9 lasagna noodles (cooked and drained according to package)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix pesto sauce and tomato sauce (mix to preference- if you like more pesto flavor use less tomato sauce).  Mix cream cheese, sour cream, and 1 cup parmesan cheese, until smooth and creamy. Mix in spinach, artichokes and sundried tomatoes, until artichokes are in small pieces.  Spread 1/3 cup pesto-tomato sauce onto bottom of greased casserole dish.  Lay three lasagna noodles over pesto-tomato spread, trimming if needed.  Spread 1/3 cup pesto-tomato sauce over noodles, followed by 1/3 of cream cheese/artichoke/spinach mixture.  Repeat two more layers.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded parmesan on top layer.   If freezing- cover well and thaw before cooking.  Bake, uncovered, 20-25 minutes, until cheese is melted and noodles are heated through.

Spinach, Mushroom, and Artichoke Casserole 
(Emeril Lagasse, Food Network)
·         2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 teaspoons
·         3/4 cup chopped onions
·         1/2 teaspoon salt
·         1/2 teaspoon pepper
·         2 teaspoons minced garlic
·         1 pound button mushrooms,  wiped clean and sliced
·         2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
·         2 (14-ounce) cans artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
·         1 (15-ounce) container ricotta
·         1 cup grated Monterey jack cheese
·         1/2 cup crumbled feta
·         6 eggs
·         1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
·         1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
·       1/2 cup parmesan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish with 2 teaspoons of the butter and set aside.  In a large skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook until they give up their liquid, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.  In a large bowl, combine the spinach, artichoke hearts, mushroom mixture, ricotta, jack, and feta, and toss to combine.  In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, nutmeg, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add to the spinach mixture. Add the bread crumbs and mix well. Transfer to the prepared dish and top with a layer of Parmesan. Bake until the casserole is firm and the top is golden, about 45 to 50 minutes.  Remove from the oven and serve.

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