Thursday, May 6, 2010

Artichokes - Three for a Dollar at the A&P

There's an old joke about a low rent hit man named Artie who accepts a one dollar contract, gets confused, and chokes three shoppers at the A&P. It's one of my husband's favorite jokes. It hails from long ago when he taught physics.  He always liked to use those groaner jokes to lighten up the mood before a test. The students always groaned and the tests were always excruciating.  The only person in the room who seemed to be having a good time was my husband who enjoyed himself heartily -- mainly because he didn't have to take his own test.

Regardless of my husband's somewhat iffy sense of humor, we love artichokes. No matter where we buy 'em or how we prepare them. we love 'em.  Fresh baby artichokes! Flattened and fried into crispy little flowers, braised with tomatoes, steamed with hollandaise sauce, or raw. They are wonderful!

Some people balk at the tedious preparation a fresh artichoke requires.  The peeling, paring, cutting, scraping, and dunking in citric acid of some sort just to keep them from turning brown seems to take away the joy of the eating. I think they are worth the trouble. I look at it as a sort of long culinary foreplay, if you will. For me cleaning chokes is like breaking green beans.  Ya gotta do the mindless tasks to reap the tasty rewards.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy the artichoke is in a salad -- a salad that combines thinly sliced raw baby artichokes with another of my favorite flavors of green -- arugula. The spicy arugula and smoky artichoke is a blissful natural pairing. A little lemon juice. A glug of extra virgin olive oil.  Some kosher salt and a few shards of Parmigiano Reggiano and you're all set!

For this one, I fully intended be a hypocrite, to break my cook from the pantry rule. I searched high and low for fresh baby artichokes to slice paper thin but alas no joy. So I ended up following my own rule after all by grabbing a bag of Kroger Frozen Artichoke Quarters from the freezer.  I sliced them as thinly as I could while they were still fairly frozen and added a generous amount of Trader Joe's Wild Arugula. Dress, toss, and done.

Smoky, peppery, sour, slightly salty, and savory.  Great with fish or pasta.  A quick salad when you want a jolt of spring flavors in a hurry. And if you play your cards right you won't have to go to the store and risk running into Artie!

Artichoke and Arugula Salad

Serves 4

2 cups thinly sliced artichoke hearts (frozen or fresh) If using fresh, a mandolin may be useful.
4 cups fresh arugula (rocket) washed and spun dry
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil (the best you can afford)
1 lemon - juiced
1-2 tsp rinsed and minced preserved lemon (optional but adds a nice little lemony surprise bite)
sea salt, kosher salt,  or gray salt to taste
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano shards (use a vegetable peeler if using block cheese) or 1/4 cup grated

Mix washed greens and artichoke slices.
Add olive oil and toss thoroughly
Add lemon juice and salt and toss thoroughly
Adjust seasonings, adding pepper if desired
Divide between four plates and top with cheese.

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