A lesson I learnt this spring: If you have artichokes in your kitchen, you will find new ways to cook them.
While travelling throughout western Europe intermittently since February, I saw them eaten raw, braised, sautéed and fried, served solo or with lamb, shrimp, octopus or pasta. And I internalized, as I never had before, that artichokes are not a precious ingredient but a regular vegetable, and they can be treated as such.
In a way, they remind me of lobster; they’re so great steamed, with lemon or butter, that you forget it’s easy enough to take them a step or two further.
If you can’t find baby artichokes, little ones will do (Photo by: Evan Sung/NYT)
On my extended periods at home, I bought artichokes whenever I saw decent ones. It didn’t hurt that they don’t seem too expensive this year.
I began not only duplicating beloved recipes from past years, a seasonal ritual with many of my favourite ingredients, but also improvising with them.
The best consequence of all that was this quick sauté in which, as I was trimming my artichokes, I began piling them, cut side down, into a pan filmed with hot oil.
(I’m not a big fan of soaking artichokes in acidulated water to keep them green, for three reasons: One, it’s a hassle; two, it doesn’t work unless you make the water so acidic that it changes the taste; three, I don’t mind olive-green artichokes.)
With them, I cooked garlic, tomatoes and olives—I used oil-cured, but any good olives will do. It’s a simple and obvious enough combination, but a fabulous one as well.
The dish is a bit easier when made with little artichokes (or baby ones; they’re not exactly the same), whose chokes are either non-existent or small enough to ignore, and which can, therefore, be prepped a little bit faster than their larger cousins.
You can deal with them at the rate of about one per minute, so a dozen or so doesn’t take much more than 10 minutes (details for trimming are in the recipe below).
But if you can’t find the little ones, trimming the big ones (cut them in half lengthwise to remove the choke) doesn’t require much more time.
Little Artichokes, Provençal Style
Serves 2 to 4
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed, then peeled
Fresh thyme or rosemary, optional
½ cup flavourful black olives, pitted
12 little (or baby) artichokes
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved or left whole, or about 1½ cups any other tomatoes, chopped
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Combine oil and garlic in a large skillet (cast iron is good), over low heat. When the garlic sizzles, add herb, olives and a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, one at a time, prepare artichokes: Remove the hard leaves, then cut off the spiky end, about an inch down from top; trim bottoms, cut artichokes in half, and add them to the pan as they are ready, cut side down. When about half of them are in the pan, raise the heat so they brown a bit; move them around as you add the remaining artichokes so that they brown evenly. When the artichokes are nicely browned, add tomatoes and a splash of water. Cook until the chokes are tender, 10-20 minutes, adding a little more water if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning, garnish and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
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