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Sautéed Artichokes
By Charlie Burke

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Fresh vegetables in the winter certainly leave much to be desired in New
England. Fresh green beans in January are of dubious origin and lack flavor,
and asparagus, previously the anticipated harbinger of spring vegetables, is
in all the markets throughout the winter, a pale commercial shadow of the
delicious locally grown crop emerging in late April. I prefer cook with winter
squash and root vegetables once our kale succumbs to the severe cold.

I do look forward to the late winter arrival of artichokes from California. I
believe the peak season is in March, but some arrive by February. It is
possible to grow artichokes in New England, but it involves “tricking” them
by chilling for a few weeks to simulate a mild winter before planting.

A perennial in warmer climates, artichokes are a curiosity here, grown as a
novelty crop, but not grown commercially. We try to minimize buying foods
that are shipped long distances but do make exceptions for citrus fruits and
special vegetables such as artichokes.

They are actually the bud of the plant, and in Europe I’ve seen them break
into a large purple-lavender bloom which is spectacular. A bit spiky and
unwieldy, they intimidate some home cooks, but with a little practice they
are easily prepared.

Most recipes instruct one to break off the tough outer leaves until reaching
the tender light green seeds inside. This leaves the tough bases intact, and
the artichoke bottom was then “turned’ with a knife angled against it to trim
these bases. I’ve found it easier to attack with a sharp chef’s knife and can
prep a large artichoke in a minute or two. It is then ready for cooking, and
although classically they are boiled or steamed, I once had them fried in a
restaurant in the old Jewish section of Rome and found them to be much
richer in flavor. In Rome they were deep fried in extra virgin olive oil, but I’
ve found that if they are sliced thin and sautéed in a film of olive oil then
they have the same flavor with much less olive oil required. I serve them as a
vegetable with lamb, poultry or fish, as a pasta sauce or as an addition to
soups, stews or antipasto tray, and leftovers are excellent in omelets.

Preparation requires removing the fibrous undeveloped petals (the “choke”)
and some tough, sharp central leaves, in addition to the inedible outer
leaves. I will give step by step prep instructions, but after doing a couple
you will find it is not difficult. When buying, look for the artichokes’ leaves
to be tightly closed; those with leaves pulled away and opening will have
more waste. They should be medium green with minimal discoloration and
should feel heavy for their size.

1 large artichoke per person for a generous serving
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh lemon juice to taste, plus ½ lemon for every 3-4 artichokes
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Dry white wine (approximately ¼ cup for 3-4 artichokes)
1 clove garlic, sliced thin for 3-4 artichokes (optional)

To a bowl large enough to hold the sliced artichokes add cold water to 1/3
full and add the juice from ½ lemon for every 3-4 artichokes (acidified water
prevents the slices from discoloring).Cut the stem from the artichoke. Trim
and discard the browned end and peel or slice away the green skin. Slice the
stem into 1/8 inch pieces and place into the bowl.

Lay the artichoke on its side and, using a serrated knife or a very sharp chef’s
knife, remove the top 1/3 and discard. Stand the artichoke on its cut end
(stem side up) and, using the chef’s knife, make slicing motions which follow
the contour of the artichoke to remove the tough outside leaves. The knife
starts almost flat on the wide stem end of the artichoke and gradually turns
vertically as it moves forward and down along the leaves. Continue around
the artichoke until all the dark, tougher material is removed. Trim the stem
end of all dark green skin. The finished artichoke should have a light green
to yellow-green color and the remaining leaves should be tender.

Halve he trimmed artichoke vertically through the stem end. In the middle
above the solid heart is the furry choke, as well as some small triangular
white or purple white leaves with sharp points. Scrape under them with a
grapefruit spoon or melon baller until the choke and these leaves are
removed. You may have to pull out some of the small central leaves by hand.

Turn the artichoke half, cut side down, and slice vertically into thin slices.
Place the slices into the acidified water. Prepare remaining artichokes.

Choose a sauté pan large enough to hold the slices in a thin layer and heat
over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, drain the artichoke slices and
add to the pan along with the garlic. Cook, shaking the pan and stirring, until
some of the slices are slightly browned and the slices are starting to soften.

Pour in white wine and cook, scraping the pan, until reduced to a glaze. Add
lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and cook for a minute or two. The slices
should be somewhat firm when finished. Taste and correct seasoning; serve
immediately or cool and reheat briefly if serving later.

This preparation is actually quite simple after a little practice, and you will
find that sautéed artichokes are versatile, as described above. I like to sauté
thin strips because they are done within minutes, in contrast to preparations
which cook them whole or halved. They can, however, be cooked as halves
or quarters in the same manner, although a lower temperature and longer
cooking time is required to prevent burning. It is also helpful to start them
covered until partially cooked, then uncover for browning.

In a season when few quality green vegetables are available, take advantage
of fresh artichokes which can be adapted to many winter menus.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH
Farm to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers'
Market.  Along with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and
berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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