Spring is here! Not quite temperature-wise but mainly in the appearance of vegetables like artichokes and asparagus at the store. Artichokes and asparagus are a great combination and I was really happy to have some different ‘in-season’ produce to work with. It’s not a very revolutionary preparation but a quick sauté with some acid (lemon) and salt (olives, cheese) gave us our first true crisp and bright spring dish for the year.
I like artichokes a lot. They’re quite popular in French and Italian cuisine but not so much here in the USA. I wish people knew more about them other than the jar of oily marinated pieces which get dumped out on a plate and served as antipasta or jarred artichoke dip. Not that there’s anything wrong with those (ok, maybe there is) but there are many other things you can do with the prickly yet humble artichoke.
I think part of the image problem artichokes have is there’s the perception of a lot of work for little reward. You’ve got to peel back more than few layers of outer leaves, trim the points off, scoop out the choke part, and they oxidize really quickly turning an unhappy gray if you don’t rub them with lemon juice or place in acidulated water (lemon juice in water). By the time you get to the heart of the matter (ha ha) you’re left with a small fraction of what you started with. Then you have to cook it! As you can see, artichokes aren’t for instant gratification. Smug asparagus on the other hand has no image problem and is quite easy to prepare.
That said, artichokes really aren’t very difficult to prepare. For this recipe you just need to trim them up and simmer until soft. While they’re cooking you can prep all of the other ingredients and there really aren’t that many which is another great thing I like about springtime, the dishes get simpler and you can really let the ingredients shine on their own. Throw them all together in a pan, sauté until your asparagus cooks to the way you like it (I like mine with a bit of crunch). Make sure you get some of the big globe artichokes. Not only are they easier to work with and handle but you get a bigger artichoke heart from them. This dish turned out really well, impressed Cheryl, and tasted even better the next day. I’d recommend serving the artichokes and asparagus either as a hot side dish with dinner, or in a cold brunch salad.
Artichokes and Asparagus with Olives and Lemon (4-6 servings)
• 3-4 Large artichokes
• 2 Lemons (1 for the water, 1 for finishing)
• Salt & pepper
• 2 C Asparagus, diced
• ½ C White wine
• ¾ C Olives diced
• ½ tsp Tarragon
• ½ tsp Basil
• 3 Cloves garlic, minced
• 1 Tbs Butter & olive oil
• Lemon zest from 1 lemon
• Parmigianno Reggiano
Fill a large pot with water and squeeze the juice from 1-2 lemons into the water. Prepare the artichokes. Cut off the top half of the artichokes. Peel back and break off the leaves until you get to past the green leaves. With a paring knife, clean the bottoms and stem, trimming off any outer leaves.
Place cleaned and trimmed artichoke in the acidulated water and keep submerged. Do the same for the rest of the artichokes.
Side Roam: The one most important thing you need to remember when working with artichokes is to keep them from oxidizing. It doesn’t affect the taste but they turn a really ugly gray color. Squeeze the juice from a whole lemon (or two) into a pot of water and put the artichokes in immediately after trimming them. They will start to turn brown and gray very fast. When you’ve finished cooking them (in the same pot) remove the artichokes with tongs and allow to drain well. After quartering and removing the choke put the pieces back in the acidulated water. Trust me, wherever you cut, if it hasn’t been touched by the lemon will change colors. Again, it won’t affect the flavor but just won’t look the most appetizing.
Place pot on the stove over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20-30 mins or until artichokes are tender.
Drain cooked artichokes, allow to cool, then quarter. Remove the choke.
Side Roam: I find it’s easier to remove the choke after the artichokes have been cooked. The meat is softer and you can scoop the choke out much easier, especially if you quarter the artichokes.
In a sauté pan heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and garlic. Cook for a few minutes. Add the olives and artichokes, mix well.
Pour the wine over the vegetables and allow to cook down, almost to dry.
Stir in the lemon zest and squeeze in lemon juice from ⅓ of the lemon. Season with salt and pepper. Shave Parmigiano Reggiano over the dish and serve.