Sunday, August 7, 2011

A gift of a thistle

Guess what I saw at the market this week?! (It is impossible for you to respond before I tell you because I am writing this before you read it. I’m sorry that I’ve set you up to fail.) Artichokes! Baby artichokes! Local artichokes! Like young, tender, green William Wallaces at the beginning of Braveheart.

I didn’t even know artichokes grew in this climate. (I’m finding I don’t know much about this stuff.) I’m continually amazed at the variety and awesomeness provided by Nichols Farm. Three different kinds of beets! Beans for everyday of the week! Indeed, the produce is much like Braveheart—suspense, humor, drama, death, daddy issues, a well-placed Frenchwoman, historical accuracy, injustice, heads in baskets, rebellion, partial incest, men in skirts—there’s something for everyone!
Let’s talk about artichokes. How great are they? I think so, too! Second to garbanzo beans, artichokes are the most exciting item I’ve gotten this summer. Exciting because I didn’t realize they were available as a local option. That’s the good news, the bad news:  I’m told that the heat is blowing up cauliflower’s spot.  While I mourn the loss of my beloved white cruciferae, the overgrown thistles lift my spirits. 
For dinner Friday, I trimmed the baby artichokes and sautéed them in butter, garlic, lemon juice, and prosecco to deglaze the pan—adding a lid for the last five minutes to help them steam through. Pasta water from rigatoni helped to thicken the mixture and form a sauce, while red pepper flakes brought the heat and thyme added lemony depth. Topped with toasted breadcrumbs for texture and salty, strong-flavored Italian podda, this dish was tangy, nutty, and satisfying.
Podda, a sharp but sweet aged cheese, has replaced pecorino as my go-to grated garnish. I’d go so far as to say podda is the new parmigiano. You have to stay ahead of the trend. 

Trimming the artichokes is hard. You’ll need to bust out you knife skills. Remember: William Wallace killed fifty men. Fifty—if it was one! So you can take down a few big thistles.  
Prepare an acidized water bath (water with lemon juice) for the trimmed artichokes, to keep them from browning while awaiting their brethren. Then begin removing the outer leaves until you have a tight, pale green bulb. I left one tough layer too many on a few of the chokes, and the breadcrumbs I added “for texture” were nothing compared to the tough bites of vedge we experienced. We aren’t Scottish clansmen, camping in the Highlands, lucky to snag a meal: toothsome and inedible are one in the same for our soft, modern palates. Peel until you feel uncomfortable, and then peel once more.
After digging to the heart, chop off an inch from the top and shave down the stem. If the chokes call out “mercy” instead of “freedom,” discard—only eat the brave ones. And try not to snap the stems off (… my bad). Because they are delicious.

The tender inner leaves and soft hearts make a fine addition to pasta and cheese. No doubt the same way Wallace’s head made a fine addition to London Bridge.


  1. I'm waiting for you to tie artichokes to Patch Adams. Food looks great, though.

  2. My first draft included references to The Patriot--some of which did not get edited out because they also apply to Braveheart.

  3. Haven't seen these babies in any market...but if I ever do, I know exactly what I am going to do with them.

  4. This slayed me a few weeks ago on the train. FYI.