5.28.2011

Eating Around the Globe

Of all my titles, this may be the most misleading, because today's post is not about multicultural foodways or travel or the terrestrial globe at all.  It might have been titled, "When a Globe is Not a Globe," because today I am writing about artichokes.  Globe artichokes.

Whether I am in Pescadero, California ... or the hills of Tuscany ... or the produce section of Trader Joe's (which was the case today), seeing artichokes for sale makes me giddy for this harbinger of summer.  I mention Pescadero because it is famous for its rolling fields of artichokes, and that is where I had my first fried artichoke hearts at a roadside stand.  Scrumptious, but not exactly health food! I had my first whole steamed artichoke at the beautiful Hudson River home of my friend Bunny, and I was a little embarrassed that I had no idea how to eat them.  I survived with out too much chagrin and a love affair, that was already in progress, bloomed!

And Tuscany?  Well, almost everything tastes better in Tuscany.  It was there that we bought baby artichokes at the market and grilled them to accompany an evening's supper.  This coming September, we will be in Rome, famous for its carciofi alla Giudia - a Jewish-style preparation. I can only imagine how many times I will order them. Will I be sick of them after my travels?  I doubt it.  And now, in Tucson, Arizona, we even grow them in pots in our garden, although it is much more for the decorative aspects than anything else.  As you can see, we haven't harvested and we have let it bloom - quite the thistle, eh?


The artichokes that I found today in Trader Joe's, are round and globe-like, although they may not actually be globe artichokes. I found a reference to one called 'big heart' that better describes these almost-five-inch wonders. In the end, it doesn't matter to me what variety they are, as long as they taste good!

When preparing to cook artichokes, I tend to do a few things that I find help in the cooking.  First, I immerse them in water for a bit to refresh them, and this also helps remove any grit that might have gotten between the petals (as it is actually a flower).  If I am serving them at the table in a bowl to reduce the wobble.  Once cut, I give it a skim coat of lemon juice to keep it from browning. Then, in self defense and to avoid lacerations, I will take off the top inch of the 'bud' and then rub that with lemon juice as well. If the points on the petals are sharp (which they can be), I will clip them with a pair of kitchen sheers.  Today's needed no extra pruning... another reason I suspect it may be a different variety.

My favorite way to serve them is with a homemade mayonnaise. Tonight, they will be accompanied by a saffron mayonnaise, the recipe follows. Our guest this evening is our friend, founder of the Mien Shiang Institute (ancient Chinese art of face reading - check out her website) and author, Patrician McCarthy. She has just returned from a trip to Santa Fe and, we are sure, will need sustenance. We will dine al'aperto in the back garden where we will be serenaded by the finches, hummingbirds, quail and doves. The menu:
  • goat cheese and basil stuffed apricots topped with Marcona almonds
  • amuse-bouche of shrimp bisque laced with Armangac
  • steamed artichokes, served chilled, with saffron mayonnaise
  • salad of mâche with avocados, orange segments, heirloom cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumbers and grilled shrimp with a pasilla-tamarind glaze
  • Mark's Moroccan-inspired dessert - diced pears and dates macerated in pear brandy and orange blossom water and topped with toasted sliced almonds. 
No one is leaving the table hungry tonight!

- David

Steamed Artichokes

artichokes
water
homemade saffron mayonnaise (recipe follows)

Trim artichoke stems and tops and bottoms, as seen in the photos, and rub the cut area with half a lemon, squeezing a little juice on as you go.

Place the trimmed artichokes in a large steaming basket over simmering water, and let them cook for a minimum of one hour; for large artichokes like the ones I used here, I let them steam for almost one hour 30 minutes.

They may be served hot, room temperature or chilled.  Traditional dipping sauces are melted butter and mayonnaise, but you can concoct whatever you like to accompany them.

If you have never eaten a steamed artichoke, here are a few instructions:
  • Start with the bottom outer leaves. The first few may be tough and uninteresting - but as you 'go around the globe' and get to the inner leaves, you will find more meat on each petal.
  • Dip each petal into your sauce and then, with the outer side of the petal facing up, put it in your mouth and close your teeth down on it, then scrape the flesh off the petal with your bottom two teeth.
  • As you get to the middle (see above photos) the leaves will become softer and softer until you have a little cone left. Now you are getting to the feathery or threadlike 'choke' portion of the beast!
  • Take the cone of petals off like a dunce cap. With a spoon, scrape away the choke until you have a little cup - the artichoke bottom.
  • Fill the bottom with your sauce and then enjoy it - eat it as slowly as you can, as it is the best part of the artichoke.
  • Wine with artichokes: many love it, many hate it. We find that a sweeter wine (viognier or chardonnay) holds up better to their flavor. Our friend Barbara swears that it needs to be an un-oaked chardonnay but that isn't necessary for my palate.
Mark and Patrician glance up from their shrimp bisque for a photo op

 Saffron Mayonnaise

1 large egg
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon (packed) saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup canola oil, or light olive oil


Crack the egg into the bowl of a food processor and add the lemon juice and vinegar. Purée for a few seconds. Add the mustard, saffron, salt, pepper and 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and purée once again for a few seconds.

Turn the processor on and using a beaker with a spout, very slowly drizzle oil into the feed tube of the processor. Your stream of oil should be about the thickness of kitchen string.  When you are done with the oil, your mayonnaise should be ready.  It is best made in advance to let flavors meld.

Of course, you can make all different flavors of mayonnaise using fresh herbs, curry or other spices, etc. It is the perfect recipe for playtime in the kitchen!

10 comments:

  1. Those may have been the best artichokes ever. I know the mayonnaise was! It's nice to see how beautiful your garden looked during our first course, and what a lovely evening it turned out to be by the time we leisurely ate the delicious shrimp salad. Lovely lovely lovely. xxx P

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  2. Yes, the mayonnaise... Sigh... I wish I had never discovered how good homemade mayonnaise is - and how easy it is to make! I could take or leave the commercial stuff but when it is homemade, it is something special. Thanks for sharing the meal with us - always so nice to be with you!

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  3. Love the photos! Put it on self timer the next time and get in the shot! The very first time I had artichokes was at Mark's business dinner in Chicago ( that dates it!) without Mark - me and the office ... and an artichoke ~ didn't grow up with those in Waverly! Very jealous about your September trip to Rome! See you both soon!
    L

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  4. Well, there were no artichokes in Villanova, either! But that was then and this is now! See you in a month, Lori!

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  5. I love simply prepared artichokes and that saffron mayo sounds wonderful. Lovely photos.

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  6. Thanks, Marla! I just spent some time on your blog - quite lovely, too!

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  7. I am drooling with admiration. Beautiful blog. I am so glad Patrician shared this. Simply delicious. Bravo. Daniel Horton in SF.

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  8. Thanks, Daniel! Much appreciated and nice to have you as a reader!

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  9. I had no idea that artichokes could bloom such divine flowers? You look fantastic BTW!

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  10. Hi, Elle Marie! Aren't the artichoke blossoms beautiful? You can see why we let them bloom! And, while I am grateful that you think I look great - that is Mark! (My better half!) I take the pictures and, thus, never show up in the blog.

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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