As I told you earlier in the week, I love the produce that starts appearing in the spring. While I went on and on about sugar snap peas, another one of my favorites is artichokes. Maybe you’ve never had them outside of the jarred hearts, which, don’t get me wrong, are delicious! I know the whole artichoke can seem intimidating…those sharp edges, tough leaves, and you probably wonder “what do I even eat?” But if you take a little bit of time, and prepare them right, they can be delicious.
Braising is simple, basically searing something off on the stove, then finishing it simmering in some sort of liquid. Usually it’s reserved for meats, and they can be delicious. The searing gives you great color and flavor, and the slow simmering in the liquid results in tender, juicy meat. Definitely a keeper. But this time, I’m take a similar approach, but with the artichokes. They cook in a garlic, lemon, white wine sauce that really brightens the flavor and makes a great vegetable.
For this recipe, start with 6 artichokes. Because they discolor, you’ll want a bowl with acidic water. This will also be used as braising liquid. Take 3 lemons, and first, zest 2 of them. You’ll use the zest later. Then cut all 3 in half, and squeeze the juice into a big bowl. Add some cool water. You don’t need a ton of water, just enough to cover the artichokes.
The next step is cleaning. Because the leaves are very tough, you need to clean them so you only end up with the more delicate interior leaves. If you’ve ever eaten stuffed artichokes, you know you can’t eat the outer leaves. The principle still stands for these.
Start by cutting about an inch off the entire top of the artichoke. Just cut straight down. Now start pulling off the leaves. You really want to take off a lot. You need to get to the delicate, yellow, almost white inner leaves. It will seem like you’ve taken too much, but you’re fine. And don’t worry, if you find that you haven’t taken enough off when you start eating, just cut off any tough leaves and don’t eat those. Once the outer leaves are removed, take a peeler and peel along the stem to remove the tough skin. Cut the artichoke in half, and, trust me, you’re almost done, remove the choke. This is where the artichoke gets its name. In the middle of the inside is a fuzzy choke. You need to grab a spoon and just scoop it out. It comes out very easily. Once that’s done, just drop your 2 halves in the water. Continue cleaning until they are all in the water.
Once the artichokes are clean, mince 3 cloves garlic. Heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a saute pan large enough to hold all of the artichoke halves. Add the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Feel free to add more or less red pepper flakes depending on if you like a little heat. Saute for a minute until the garlic gets some color. Add the artichoke halves, cut side down, to the pan. Cook for a minute or two, then add 1 cup white wine. Let the alcohol cook off, then add 1-2 cups lemon water (this is the water the artichokes were soaking in). You want the water to come about half way up the artichoke halves. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook, covered, for about 15 minutes, until the artichokes are soft when pierced with a knife. Remove the lid, raise the heat to high, and boil for about 5 minutes to tighten up the sauce a bit.
To serve the artichokes, I plate them and spoon over some of the sauce. Sprinkle the reserved lemon zest and about 1 tablespoon chopped chives. I also like to add some shaved Parmigiano cheese. It works really well with the artichokes and lemon.
These artichokes make a really nice side dish, and it’s the perfect time of year to enjoy them. They would make a pretty good addition to an Easter dinner too. Hmm…I might have to adjust my menu for next week!