An "Old" Recipe for A New Artichoke

Monday, May 3, 2010

Artichokes have to be one of my favorite ingredients to work with and eat. I grew up never eating even one, until I met Andrew and ever since I was hooked for life.

Artichokes are thought to have come from Northern Africa originally (the Maghreb region to be exact), and eventually made their way throughout the Mediterranean vis-a-vis the Roman Empire where their popularity is still enjoyed even today. The Dutch eventually brought the artichokes to England where they grew in abundance in Henry VIII's garden at Newhall. Centuries later, French immigrants brought artichokes to the New World when they settled in Louisiana, while Spanish immigrants did the same in California. Today artichokes are primarily grown in the Mediterranean and California, whose climate we know mimics the Mediterranean's almost perfectly.

The most popular variation of the artichoke that we know and use throughout history is called The Globe Artichoke. The artichoke itself is actually a thistle -- the part we eat gives way to a beautiful purple flower, which is also edible. But we primarily eat the "globe" part (the leaves), discard the inedible "choke" that surrounds the super-tasty "heart."

Given its worldly popularity, artichokes can be prepared a number of ways from simply boiled to preserved in sugar syrup like candy. Today the most popular version (and my own favorite) is to simply steam the artichoke and serve it with a concentrated dipping sauce comprised of good quality extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, pepper, garlic, and grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

But recently when making artichokes, I wanted something different. As I often do, I look to history to find a new "old" take on classic ingredients and found a very interesting recipe from ancient Rome on serving artichokes. Again, steaming or boiling (there is really no way around it because it's so tough) and then served with a dipping sauce comprised of honey, vinegar, and cumin.

I was skeptical, I had to be honest. Cumin? With honey and vinegar? For an artichoke? That couldn't be right. Where was the garlic? The cheese? The olive oil for Chrissakes??
I whipped up a quick batch and was amazed at how beautifully it went with the artichoke. It was stunning. The sweetness of the honey and sharpness of the vinegar together with the smoky cumin seeds was a combination made in heaven that brought out a whole set of new flavors out of the artichokes. I loved it.

And even more, I loved the contrast between the two sacues together -- one was smooth and oily infused with garlic while the other was bright and sweet. I was extremely please with this dish as a whole.
So here is my recipe for....
Artichokes Old & New: with Garlic-Oil and Honey-Vinegar Dipping Sauces
2 large artichokes
1 large clove garlic, minced into a paste
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 heaping tsp finely grated Romano cheese (or Parmesano-Reggiano)
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 heaping Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
special equipment: steamer
Take artichokes and with a sharp knife, cut off the very tops and discard. Take scissors and snip off the spikes of the remaining leaves (optional). Cut off the stems and discard. Place in a steamer and steam for 40-45 minutes or until extremely tender (leaves should come off very easily).

While artichokes steam, prepare your sauces.
In a small serving bowl, combine the garlic, salt, pepper, cheese, and olive oil. Mix and set aside to let flavors meld together. In another small bowl, combine the vinegar, honey and toasted cumin seeds. Let stand to combine as well.
Serve artichokes with both dipping sauces.
My notes:
If you don't have a steamer, you can create the same effect in a large pot. Cut off the stem of the artichoke, but leave about 2 inches on there. Make sure you cut the stem pretty evenly so the artichoke can stand on its stem. Fill the bottom of your pot of water about 2 inches high with water and place the artichokes inside. You want a pot that large enough to accommodate the artichokes, but small enough so they fit snugly in and won't topple over during cooking. Bring water to a boil, cover with lid, and let artichoke steam until done. Depending on how large your artichokes are (and therefor how long they'd have to cook), the water may evaporate, so make sure you pay attention and add more water during cooking as needed. No need to do this with a steamer as enough room is between the bottom and the steaming basket above.
Yes you have to toaste the cumin seeds. To do this, place seeds in a dry saute pan and gently heat through on low heat until you can smell the cumin. By doing this you "awaken" the essential oils in the seeds and draw them out. This is what gives them flavor in cooking.

1 comment:

Virginia said...

This sounds awesome and something I can do! My very favorite dipping sauce is olive oil and parm cheese. But now i will also add the garlic, salt and pepper. and i have to try the honey cumin - sounds delish!