Utilize all artichoke parts this season
Artichokes are in season. Surprisingly, the whole production of artichokes in the United States is mainly in California. The Spanish settlers made the first attempt to introduce this vegetable among olive trees, grapes and citrus trees.
Artichokes did not become popular until the 1920s, however. By then, Salinas and Castroville in Monterey County blossomed into the largest artichoke-producing crop in the country.
As early as the first century A.D., artichokes were cultivated by the Greeks, Romans and later the Moors, who introduced them to Andalucía. Growing up in the Mediterranean, to me, artichokes represented the arrival of spring and for few weeks were part of each meal. No part was wasted, as the heart and the leaves were often prepared separately and were part of a different course.
This week's recipe focuses on creating an appetizer with a dip using the leaves, and developing a salad topping for the artichoke hearts. (As you might have noticed, in this column, my emphasis is on serving what is fresh and seasonal, which allows me to be not just a recipe producer, but a storyteller and farmer as well.)
Do not be discouraged by the labor this salad recipe requires, as the end result will bring you ample satisfaction.
8 jumbo size artichokes (the larger, the better)
Lemon water bath: 4 cups cold water mixed with 1⁄2 cup lemon
2 medium size tomatoes, finely diced
1⁄2 yellow onion, finely diced
1⁄4 cup pitted kalamata olives
2 tablespoons capers, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon Greek oregano
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 farm-fresh hard-boiled eggs, finely diced
Wash the artichokes thoroughly and break all the leaves until you get to the heart. (Keep the water-lemon juice handy in a bowl) Meanwhile, bring to a boil 8 cups of water with 1 teaspoon each of salt and olive oil, and cook the leaves for 30 minutes, or until the tender end part is soft. Place all the leaves in a colander to drain.
Using a spoon or a sharp knife, scrape out and discard the fuzzy topping covering the artichoke hearts. Refine the contours of the hearts using a knife and cut away any green or hard skin. To avoid discoloration due to oxidation, immediately place the hearts into a bowl of the lemon water bath.
The next step is to cook the artichoke hearts carefully for 20-25 minutes in the lemon-water liquid they were kept in, then cool for five minutes. The idea is not to overcook them, but to achieve a crisp-tender texture.
In a medium bowl, combine all the filling ingredients except the diced hard-boiled eggs. Gently fold in the diced eggs and carefully fill each heart with the mixture, enough to create a harmonious dome.
Serve as an accompaniment to any meat dish or salad, or just on their own.
DRESSING FOR ARTICHOKE LEAVES
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1⁄4 cup Dijon mustard
1 farm-fresh egg yolk
1⁄2 cup canola oil
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers
In a food processor, combine the garlic and mustard.
The egg yolk may be used raw or coddled, depending on your preference. If you use raw, the pH level in the dressing is generally considered to be acidic enough to kill bacteria contained in the raw egg.
To coddle the egg: Boil enough water to immerse the egg still in its shell. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully lower the egg into the boiling water. Let the egg rest in the water for one minute, then remove to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. When cool, separate the egg and add the yolk to the food processor.
Gradually add the olive and canola oils together to the ingredients in the food processor. Process until the mixture is thick and fluffy. Add lemon juice and capers and process to combine.
Place a bowl with the dressing in the middle of a large platter and arrange the artichokes leaves around the bowl in a flower petal design. To eat, hold the pointed end of each petal, dip the white soft end in the dressing and eat only that part.