Carciofi Due Modi
As I’ve mentioned to a few of you, I’ve had a devil of a time finding “baby” artichokes here in Chicago. Sure, I can get the goliaths year-round and, about this time of the year, the stores have some that are at about half that size. The truly small artichokes, however, the ones with no choke, have been impossible to find and it’s not for lack of trying. I routinely shop at 4 different groceries, 2 ethnic markets, and 2 additional fruit/vegetable markets. Whether I’m searching too late/early in the season or I’m living in a heretofore unknown baby artichoke-free zone, it’s been well over 10 years since the green beauties have graced my table — until now.
Recently, my vegetarian friend, Cynthia, and I decided to head West to the hinterlands. We’d both heard tales of an Italian market “out there” but never ventured to find out for ourselves. Not much more than a half-hour later, we were there and what a store! First off, the place was huge, easily the largest Italian market that I’ve ever seen. They had everything from antipasti to zuppe, and very often several choices for everything in between. The best surprise, though, was found in the produce department.
There, at the end of one of the aisles, was not 1 but 2 displays of artichokes and, much to my delight, one of them was nothing but small artichokes. To say I was happy is a gross understatement. So, with Cynthia perusing the rest of the fruits and vegetables, I got to work selecting only the smallest of the small artichokes. I didn’t care how long it took but I was going to find them. About 10 minutes later, I had amassed some 5 pounds of the edible thistles, all about the size of a goose egg. We soon finished our shopping and snacked on mini-conolli as we drove back to civilization. The next morning, I couldn’t wait to get started preparing my find.
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Preparing Baby Artichokes
Just like when preparing the goliaths, use a sharp knife to chop off the top of each artichoke. I usually chop just above the tips of the largest outer leaves. Next, peel off a couple of layers of the tough, outermost leaves, revealing the vegetable’s soft inner heart. Using a paring knife, peel the base and stalk of each artichoke and, depending on the size, cut it in half or quarters. Being so small, there is no choke to remove and be sure to save as much of the stem as possible. When finished with each, immediately rub the sections with a halved lemon and place in acidulated water. (Take a large bowl of cold water and add to it the juice of 2 lemons, as well as the lemons themselves.) This “bath” will prevent the vegetable from discoloring due to oxidation. Continue until all the artichokes have been cleaned and trimmed.
Next bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add all the trimmed artichokes, and, when the water returns to the boil, leave them to blanch for about 3 minutes. Drain them and immediately place the blanched sections into a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Once chilled, removed them from the water, pat them dry, and they are now ready for use. In my case, having bought 5 pounds of the green gems, that meant the freezer for most of them. Small amounts, destined for pasta or pizza, were individually bagged, as were larger quantities which would be prepared as side dishes in the near future. Once labelled, the bags were placed in the freezer.
So, with a treasure of cleaned and trimmed baby artichokes stashed away, what are you going to do with them? Well — and this is where the due modi come into play — I’ve got 2 of Mom’s recipes to share today.
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Mom’s Deep Fried Artichokes
Mom didn’t prepare baby artichokes like this very often but, when she did, they certainly didn’t linger long on the serving platter. I think you’ll find the same will hold true today, no matter how you serve them: as a side, an appetizer, or snack on game day. And if you’re working with previously trimmed and blanched artichokes, they’re a snap to prepare.
Whether using freshly blanched or just thawed, pat the artichokes dry as best you can. Use standard breading methods to coat the artichokes. Since I prefer a thin coating on these, I do not use bread crumbs. Instead, I’ll coat the artichoke pieces in seasoned flour (paprika & onion powder) first before dipping them in an egg wash that’s been seasoned with salt & pepper. Then it’s back into flour again before deep frying in vegetable oil that’s been heated from 350˚ to 360˚ F. Since the baby artichokes were previously blanched, they won’t need to cook for a long time. When the coating is golden brown, they’re done. Remove them to drain on paper towels, season with salt, and serve. Although fine just as they are, I’ll sometimes serve them with lemon wedges and/or a simple aioli of mayonnaise, lemon juice, and a little grated garlic. If possible, prepare the aioli a few hours before serving to give the flavors a chance to blend.
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Mom’s Sautéed Artichokes
Mom most often prepared these artichokes as she did many vegetables. (See my Vegetables/Verdura posting.) If using fresh artichokes, trim and blanch as indicated above. If cleaned but frozen, allow to defrost before use. In a frying pan over medium heat, add a couple tbsp of olive oil. Once heated, add some chopped garlic, wait a minute, and then add the artichokes. Wait another 2 minutes and then add a little tomato paste or chopped tomato, “For color,” as Mom would say. Add a splash of dry white wine, season with salt & pepper, and continue to sauté until the wine is all but gone and the artichokes are cooked to your liking. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh parsley.
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This is all well and good, so long as you can get baby artichokes. But what if you can’t? Both of these dishes can be prepared with artichokes of any size. Just be aware that larger-sized artichokes have developed an inedible “choke.” It’s a fibrous mass found at the base of the bulb and it must be removed. Once you’ve trimmed and halved an artichoke, use a paring knife or teaspoon to scoop out the fibrous mass. Once the choke has been removed and depending upon how large the artichoke is, you may need to cut each half into halves or thirds before proceeding. As you may have guessed, because of their size, these artichoke pieces should be blanched a few minutes longer than the “babies” were and will require longer cooking times, too. Personally, I prefer to stuff and roast the larger artichokes, leaving the sautéing and deep frying for the more tender babies.
Today I shared Mom’s favorite recipes for preparing baby artichokes. Next week I’ll share my Pasta Primavera recipe that features baby artichokes, of course, as well as a couple of other Springtime treats.
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