Who first decided that artichokes would be a good thing to eat? Who looked at the prickly-thistled plant and determined, "Must have that for dinner!" I had this discussion with my cousin in New York (which segued into "How did beer happen" and "the whys and wonders of having dogs and cats instead of grandchildren") as well as a myriad of topics that cousins discuss when they haven't seen each other for years.
I would have liked to have been there - at the first artichoke feast. (I'd also like to be at the first production of Hamlet where nobody know that everyone dies at the end. Sorry if I spoiled the ending for you.) The first artichoke feast must have happened early. By the time of the Romans, artichokes were cultivated and widely eaten. I suspect we have hunger pangs and the early foragers to thanks for the glories of this thistle.
This is so simple. Braised in water, wine and lemon, they become succulently soft and tender in 30 minutes. The stems (with the outer layer peeled) are edible. My kids watched me prep them and thought they were a lot of work to "get to the good stuff." But in just minutes while chatting with the family, the outer leaves of 2 were peeled, the tips were cut off and the artichoke was slashed in half to get rid of the choke. And I might add - the kids were very happy participants in the eating of the thistle.
If you're new to artichokes, Ciao Chow Linda has a primer on "How to Trim an Artichoke." Find it here.
The Ardent Epicure has a post on all-things-artichoke. Find it here.
Braised Artichokes (from Saveur and Edythe Grace Gresio Schmidt aka "Mom")- serves 4*
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 large artichokes (outer leaves peeled, trimmed and halved lengthwise, choke removed)
2 lemons, halved and juiced
salt to taste (just a little)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter - sliced thin (use Earth Balance to keep it vegan)
Fresh ground pepper to serve
*If you're Italian or used to artichokes, you're likely nodding your head because you know this recipe. It's the easiest of artichoke recipes. You're thinking of your own recipe - stuffed artichokes, fried, broiled, grilled. But if artichokes ever intimidated you - start with this easy recipe. Success breeds later success.
Braised Artichoke Preparation:
In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic. Saute till almost browned. (1-2 minutes) Add wine, artichokes, lemon juice, lemon halves, salt and about 8-10 cups of water (really just enough to cover the artichokes). Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium low and gently boil for 30 minutes. Transfer artichokes to platter and keep warm. Discard all but 2 cups of braising liquid. Return pan with liquid to medium high heat. Add butter. Cook until thickened (about 15 minutes). Mine did not thicken much! Season to taste with salt and pepper and spoon sauce over artichokes. Serve.
It's just a wonderful slurpy mess. I am sure there is a correlation between messy food and laughter at the table. I'm surprised nobody has done a study about that. You're eating a thistle covered in liquid. Messy, earthy, sensual - what's not to like? (And I could continue to sing the merits of cracking crab legs at the table - but I'll spare you.)
It has been written that Zeus came to earth (as he frequently did) and spied a young beauty (as he often did) and seduced her (as he always did). With her consent, he brought her back to Mount Olympus (unbeknownst to Hera). But the young girl was homesick and sneaked back to earth to visit her mom. Zeus was enraged and hurled her back to earth where she became planted and grew - as an artichoke! I suppose there are worse things.
We never knew when an artichoke would appear in the home. I suspect because my mother never "planned" them. They came home when they were looking good to her at the market. She would simply cut the pricklies off the top of the leaves and simmer them whole in water, wine. lemon and herbs. Then serve them cold with dipping sauces. For the tough leaves - we would scrape off the tender inner portion with our teeth. We'd work our way down to the choke. Each leaf unearthed a more tender one - and as a child - this was heaven. It was partly a game - to avoid pricklies and partly an education in deliciousness.
I know it's just a tad early for Small Bites Sunday but then I realized - I can do this - it's my blog! Have a grand week, all!
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