BEFORE THEY BLOOM
When we moved into our house, we didn’t take much notice of the large artichoke plants that line the edge of the property. We weren’t sure if they were artichokes or cardoons, and had no idea if they would produce much. They are such a low maintenance perennial that while all our time and care was focused on our carrot seedlings, and trellising our snap beans, we kinda just forgot about the them. Until one day, while watering, we realized that they were producing. And not just a few chokes, but somehow overnight we have 15 or 20 on our plants! It felt like such an unexpected surprise, that deep in the silvery thorny leaves were these delicious (albeit somewhat tedious) thistles.
In celebration of this spring crop that is ideal for our SF environment, we’ve been cooking them all week – both large and small. Any way you eat them, artichokes are a bit of work to prepare; either by steaming them whole until finally those tough outer leaves become tender, or by trimming them up and focusing all your cooking (and eating!) attention to the tender and delicious heart.
The other night we braised the hearts, with some chicken thighs and a bit of potatoes we had lying around, but they would go well with a lot of things and the method for preparing them is more or less the same.
We took two of the largest chokes – the ones that grow straight up and out of the middle of the plant - about the size of a softball or really big grapefruit. Fill a bowl with water and some lemon quarters. Rinse the artichokes well as dirt and bugs can bury themselves in the tight leaves. Remove the outer, tough green leaves, adding them to the bowl of water until you reach the yellow, tender inner leaves.
Take a paring knife and trim the base and stem of the chokes until all the green is removed and you only see the nice, white flesh below. Trim the top of the leaves off as about the top third with still be light green.
Slice the artichoke lengthwise in quarters, being careful not to break off the delicious and tender stem. Remove the thorny inner thistle with your paring knife, being sure to the leave the tender choke in place. Slip the cleaned and trimmed artichokes into the bowl of water.
Heat up a skillet with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and some smashed garlic cloves. Add some roughly chopped onion, salt to taste, and herbs (we used oregano and rosemary for a sort of Greek take). Cook on low heat until fragrant (about 5-10 min). Add trimmed artichoke hearts, ¼ c. of white wine and enough water to barely cover the artichokes (save the leaves, and steam them separately until tender). Take a fat ribbon of lemon zest and add to the braising liquid, cover, then simmer the chokes until tender, about 30 min.
To make with potatoes and chicken, we partially braised the artichokes and then added everything (liquid and all) to browned bone in, skin on chicken a thighs (rubbed with mustard, garlic, oil and herbs) and potatoes. Once the meat was cooked through, we then threw the whole dish under the broiler until the chicken skin was brown and crisp.