Monday, June 9, 2008

Braised Artichokes

With a little garlic-rubbed grilled bread, this is a staple light supper for us in artichoke season. If you’re in the mood for something a bit herbier, chop about three or four tablespoons of soft herbs (tarragon and parsley are favorites of mine for this dish) and add about two thirds of the herbs when it seems as if you’ve got twenty minutes to go. Add the rest right before serving. The photo is of the enormous fronds of my artichoke plants.The recipe is (clearly)not particularly technical. Precise measurements are really, really not important; it’s flexible, forgiving and still quite tasty, which is what I love about it.

To clean the artichokes, each leaf must be snapped off to its base, and the choke removed. Take a look at the artichoke once you're done; you may still need to go through with a paring knife to get the tough bits off, and the stems need to be trimmed to their soft, delicious center, which, if you look at the stem from the top, is easy to see, surrounded as it is by the tougher, stringier outer layers. Some people drop the artichokes in acidulated water; given the time it can take to trim the suckers, they’re pretty brown by the time they’re ready to drop in the prepped water, so I don’t bother.

1 clove garlic, chopped fine (optional)
2-4 large artichokes, cleaned
¼ cup olive oil
2-3 cups chicken broth (water might work, but a vegetable broth with a little depth would probably be better)
Zest of one lemon
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan that has a lid, with the heat on medium. Add the artichokes, choke down and stem up, until the choke is browning up nicely. Add the garlic, if using, and continue cooking until it has colored a little bit.

2. Salt and pepper the artichokes, and add the broth, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosed the browned bits. The broth should cover the bottom of the pan generously; if you have a big casserole, it may take more broth (this will not be a bad thing when you finish your artichoke and have sauce left to mop up with bread). Once the liquid is at a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and put a lid, slightly ajar, on the pot. Stir periodically, making sure to splash a bit of liquid over the artichokes (the exposed part sometimes dries out otherwise).

3. After about 30 minutes, check the artichokes (poke one with a fork). Tough and/or large artichokes can take 45-50 minutes. Smaller, tenderer ones cook more rapidly. I often let whatever artichokes I'm cooking go quite a bit longer, for instance if the kids want me to read one more chapter of a book- it's a forgiving dish, and although the artichokes may be a less than perfectly attractive army green, they will still be meltingly delicious.

4. When the artichokes are done, remove them to bowls and turn the heat up. Reduce the liquid so that it is slightly thicker, stir in the lemon juice a bit at a time until the sauce tastes about right. Correct for salt and pepper and spoon the sauce over the artichokes.

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