Artichoke plants look spectacularly weird. They grow to a height of about five feet and have thick stalks protruding all over, with artichoke flowers at the tips. They are picked for eating before they open and show their purple blooms. The artichoke season is at its peak in late winter and early spring, but can be found in produce markets starting in the fall.
In my family, artichokes are traditionally served during Passover, but also appear in salads to start Friday night dinners during the winter. Sometimes artichokes are boiled and served whole. You dip the leaves one by one in lemon juice with salt, until the leaves are all gone and the delicious heart is left. Sometimes we use artichoke hearts to make a spicy cooked salad with a nice amount of lemon. You can also prepare them with fish, or coated with tempura batter.
When you talk about artichokes, you have to deal with how to peel them to get to the heart. There is no magic trick; it’s hard work, but the reward is well worth it. With experience, it definitely becomes easier and less intimidating. My favorite method, though I know there are many more, is to assertively pluck the tough outer leaves until you get to the softer, purple ones. Then, with a small, sharp knife, peel (as if you were peeling an orange) the green base of the tough leaves. Use the knife to cut off the ends of the purple leaves. Cut the artichoke heart in half lengthwise and remove the hair-like fibers. The section of the stalk close to the heart is also edible, as long as you peel off its fibrous outer layer.
Spicy cooked artichoke salad
1 sweet red pepper
1 hot chili pepper (or less, if you prefer it less spicy)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small fennel, diced
1 stalk celery, sliced thin
pinch of salt
Fill a bowl with water and the juice of one lemon. Peel artichokes and soak the hearts in the bowl (the lemon keeps them from turning brown). Meanwhile, cut off the top of the red pepper, remove seeds and put the pepper into a food processor. Cut off the top of the hot chili pepper and open it up lengthwise. Remove the seeds and put into the food processor along with the garlic cloves and olive oil. Blend into a paste.
Pour the paste into a small saucepan and heat over a very low flame. Slice the artichoke hearts into sixths or eighths and add to the pan. Stir in the diced fennel and sliced celery. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon. Then use a spoon to scoop out the inside of half the squeezed lemon, chop and add to the pan. Season with salt, stir and cover. Let simmer for half an hour, adding water occasionally if needed. When the artichoke hearts have softened, taste and add salt if needed. Let the mixture cool, transfer to a jar and store in refrigerator.
Seared fish fillet with artichoke cream
Ingredients (serves 4)
For the sauce:
1 small onion (about 60 grams), finely diced
20 gr butter
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch of grated nutmeg
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
1 container cream (15 percent fat)
coarsely ground black pepper
For the fish:
20 gr butter
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cooked artichoke hearts, (1 per serving) halved
4 champignon mushrooms, (1 per serving) quartered
4 bream (denis) fillets (200 gr each)
Prepare a pot with 1.5 liters water, juice of one lemon and salt. Peel the artichokes and place the hearts in the pot. Cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the hearts have softened.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Grate in a little nutmeg. When the butter browns and takes on a nutty aroma, add the onion. Make sure the onion is chopped fine enough so that the butter won’t burn. Add olive oil (it will also help to keep the butter from burning). Season with salt and pepper. When the onion is translucent, add sliced garlic and stir. Do not allow garlic to burn. After half a minute or so, add the cream and turn off heat. Mix well. Transfer to a bowl and add the artichoke hearts. Mix with an immersion blender until the consistency is smooth and liquid. Taste and add salt if needed.
Preparing the fish:
Melt the butter in a wide skillet over a medium high flame. Add 1 tbsp olive oil. Add the quartered mushrooms and the halved artichoke hearts. Sear well on all sides and remove from skillet. Use the same pan to sear the fish. Place fillets in the skillet, skin-side down. (It’s a good idea to place a heavy dish on top of the fish while searing to keep it from curling up. This also makes the fish crispier. Remove the dish after a minute or so.) Season fish with salt and pepper. After 2-3 minutes, when the edges of the fillet are white, turn them over and sear for another 15 seconds. Remove immediately.
Assembling the dish:
Pour the artichoke cream into a deep serving dish. Scatter the seared mushrooms and artichoke hearts on top and then place the seared fish on top of that. Serve immediately.
Artichoke hearts in tempura
Ingredients (serves 2):
1 cup white flour (or chickpea flour)
¾ cup beer
1 heaping tbsp. sardines or anchovies in salt brine, minced
pinch of salt and black pepper
oil for frying
Fill a bowl with water and the juice of one lemon. Peel the artichokes, leaving a 5-cm length of stem (to hold onto when eating the artichoke hearts). The outer part of the stem is very fibrous, so peel it a little with a knife or peeler. Be careful not to leave it too thin, since it shrinks during frying. Soak the artichoke hearts in the bowl with the water and lemon juice.
In a small saucepan, heat the oil for deep frying over a medium flame. Meanwhile, prepare the batter. In a bowl, combine flour, beer, minced sardines, a little coarsely ground black pepper and just a little salt if using sardines. Anchovies are salty enough without adding salt. Mix until smooth, with the consistency of tehina. Add more beer if needed.
Cut the artichoke hearts into quarters. When the oil is hot (but not smoking), dip them in the batter. The easiest way to do this is to hold the hearts by the stem, dip in the bowl and then shake off the excess batter. The coating should not be too thick. Place the coated artichoke hearts in the hot oil and fry until browned all over. Remove and place on paper towels, add a little salt and serve with lemon slices and mayonnaise.