Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fresh artichokes

The fruit barn is full of fresh artichokes at the moment. Yesterday I picked up four for $5. I've been cooking them recently a la David Herbert (fried artichokes, below) and have been also checking through The Silver Spoon to see what the real deal recommends. There's a nice one in there for artichokes stuffed with lamb mince and herbs. Could give that a go. The first time I tried to cook a fresh one, I didn't peel away enough of the leaves and my arti was fairly tough and hard on the outside. Now I know I have to keep peeling until the leaves are really pale green and soft. The US cookbooks say to cut the scales back with scissors, but David says just to peel them off. I will give both a go.
Last week I deep-fried them (below), but it wasn't quite right. The inside was definitely delicious and creamy, but the outside was tough. Last night I quartered the hearts and put them in a frying pan with a squirt of lemon juice, olive oil and water, and cooked until they were tender. I had to top up the water a couple of times. They were delicious.
The thing I like most about artichokes is their connection to real cooking: like fennel and celeriac, if you can cook an artichoke, you can cook anything. I love that southern-Mediterranean Italian and French style of cooking: lots of olive oil, vegetables, strong flavoursome ingredients, perfect for summer and good health. I'll definitely keep cooking artichokes for a while longer- they are only here for spring. Then I will move to the jar variety.
Article by David Herbert, The Weekend Australian
For years, like many cooks, I felt intimidated by fresh globe artichokes and bought them in jars instead.But since my conversion to the charms and versatility of the fresh variety, I've looked forward to their appearance every spring. And no longer are they limited to part of an antipasti plate; I now confidently braise, fry, stuff and boil them.

Preparation is not difficult; remember to buy them fresh and use within two days. Select small or medium-sized artichokes. Once cut or trimmed, rub the surfaces with a lemon to stop them browning. To prepare artichokes, chop off the top 2cm of tough outside leaves, then snap back and pull the leaves off. Keep going, working your way around the layers until you get to the pale tender leaves – the heart – inside. Trim the stem to about 3cm and peel off the outside skin with a sharp knife. Rub with a cut lemon and, if not using immediately, drop into a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice added.

Depending on how I am going to cook them, I usually cut artichokes in half lengthways, then dig out the fuzzy choke at the centre with a spoon. You can halve them again if needed, depending on your recipe. If you fry artichokes at a low temperature until tender and then deep-fry again quickly at a higher temperature, the leaves open like petals, giving you a wonderful crunchy texture. With fried artichokes, rub with lemon but don’t place in water before cooking as the hot oil and water will react.

Deep-fried artichokes

6 small artichokes
2 lemons, quartered
750ml combined olive oil and vegetable oil
Sea salt
Good-quality mayonnaise, flavoured with a squeeze of lemon juice, or salsa verde to serve

Trim and prepare artichokes as described above, leaving them whole, with a stem of about 5cm. Rub trimmed artichokes with lemon to stop them going brown. Pour enough oil into a deep saucepan or saute pan to cover artichokes easily. Add artichokes, place pan over medium-low heat and heat to a temperature of 120°C (to test, a cube of bread will brown in about 1 minute). Cook for 7-10 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally. Remove artichokes and drain on kitchen paper. When ready to serve, increase heat to medium-high and bring oil to 180°C (a cube of bread will brown in 20 seconds). Add 2-3 artichokes at a time and fry for 30-60 seconds, or until leaves unfold and turn golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately with lemon mayonnaise or salsa verde. Serves 4 as a side dish or starter.

Stuffed artichokes
4 large artichokes
1 lemon, halved
250g ricotta
1 egg, beaten
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
Finely grated zest ½ lemon
About 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan (or pecorino)
2-3 tablespoons pine nuts
¼ cup fresh breadcrumbs
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 180°C. Trim and prepare artichokes as described. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Meanwhile, halve artichokes lengthways, remove hairy chokes with a spoon, then rub surfaces with lemon halves (to stop discolouring). Place in boiling water and simmer until tender (about 10-12 minutes). Drain well. Combine ricotta, beaten egg, garlic, mint, lemon zest and ¾ of the parmesan. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place artichokes, cut side up, in a roasting dish that is just large enough to hold them. Divide ricotta mixture between artichokes, filling each cavity and piling it up. Top with pine nuts and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and remaining cheese. Drizzle with oil, allowing it to spill into tin. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Serves 4 as a side dish or starter.

Braised chicken with artichokes & fennel

Olive oil
3 rashers bacon or pancetta, sliced
1 small brown onion, sliced
8 chicken thighs, with skin, or 4 marylands
About 750ml hot chicken stock or boiling water
Juice ½ lemon
1 bay leaf
4 medium artichokes, prepared as described
1 lemon, halved
1 fennel bulb, cut into 1cm slices
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 160°C. Heat oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and add bacon and onion; saute for 5 minutes, or until onion is starting to soften. Transfer to a roasting dish that is large enough to hold chicken and artichokes in a single layer. Add extra oil to frying pan, return to heat and cook chicken pieces, skin side down, until golden (you may have to do this in batches). Add these to roasting dish (skin side up). Add hot stock or water to the dish to a depth of about 2cm. Add about 4 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice and bay leaf. Transfer to oven and roast for 15 minutes. Trim, prepare and quarter artichokes (rubbing them with lemon to prevent discolouring) while chicken is cooking. Remove chicken from oven and place artichokes and fennel slices around (and under) chicken. Return to oven and cook for 25 minutes. Check to make sure chicken and artichokes are tender. Add extra liquid if dish is drying up – the idea is to be left with a slightly reduced sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve from the dish. Accompany with a salad. Serves 4.

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