Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Artichokes Braised with Red Wine

Braised Artichokes. Two words that mean one thing: effort. This recipe is not difficult by any means, but if you do try it make sure that you are in the mood to have many tiny spines prick into your fingers over the course of an hour as you prep the artichokes, and that you're in the mood to get a wine and chicken-broth based facial for an hour as you braise them slowly in a cast iron pot. This is a hot and tedious recipe, but it's totally worth it.

Because the thing is, who doesn't like to eat artichokes? They're expensive and a pain in the you-know-what to prepare, but when you're done, the result is a tender, creamy, flavorful veggie based flesh that can be used to blend other flavors or can be simply enjoyed on its own, with as little adornment as a splash of lemon juice, or if you're feeling real frisky, a pat of melted butter. Artichokes are good. Real good. Sometimes I wonder what random cave-person or hunter-gatherer plucked, peeled, cored and cooked an artichoke on total whim before realizing that it was edible. Let's thank them for it!

This recipe packs a real punch in an I-hope-you-like-red-wine sort of way. With a solid 1/4 cup of red wine for each tiny little baby artichoke, make sure you pick something you'd drink on its own (especially because you're going to be left with exactly two cups of wine for drinking). The rest of the recipe is fairly simple. I chose flavors that would be relatively mild compared to the red wine. Having made this recipe a while back, I've thought about what would improve this: next time, I'll sprinkle chopped toasted walnuts and crumbled blue cheese on top, and maybe I'd stir in some chopped porcini mushrooms with the pancetta.

I needed something mild and creamy to serve this with, so as to balance strength of the artichoke and wine flavor. I made a lemon and saffron risotto with ricotta cheese. I didn't measure anything so I couldn't tell you the recipe, but I would suggest you try it on your own (just stir in ricotta instead of your favorite cheese, along with a splash of fresh squeezed lemon juice, lemon zest and saffron.) If you don't make a risotto to go alongside, make sure whatever you pair this dish with complements the braised artichokes. I'd avoid anything with a red sauce.

By the way, guess what the cool part about braising artichokes in red wine is? They start off looking like this:

And end up looking like this:

Apparently the edges absorb red wine but the centers don't!

Artichokes Braised with Red Wine
Serves: 2, maybe 4 if you have other sides

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 oz Italian Pancetta (substitute bacon, or ommit)
8-10 Baby Artichokes
2 cups good, dry red wine
2 cups organic, free-range chicken broth
4 cloves garlic
Baby spinach and arugula for serving
  1. Fill a large bowl with cold water and squeeze the juice of two lemons into it. Drop the lemon halves into the bowl. Prep the artichokes: cut off top 1/3, pull off all green/heavy leaves and make sure no spines remain, then peel stem, slice in half, then in quarters, and use a small paring knife to remove any purple leaves*. Drop in lemon water and swirl to rinse off
  2. Heat a heavy bottom, preferably cast iron skillet or dutch oven on medium heat. Add olive oil, red pepper flakes, chopped pancetta and black pepper, cooking for 4-5 minutes. Add baby artichoke quarters and stir to coat
  3. Turn heat to medium-high. Partially (less than 50%) cover the pot. Over the course of 40-60 minutes, ladle in half a cup of braising liquid. Allow liquid to simmer and evaporate off until artichokes begin sticking. Add additional half cup liquid, scraping the bottom with a wooden spatula to deglaze. Cook until artichokes are soft and edible (more or less braising liquid may be necessary depending on the heat of your pan, and you could use water in a pinch)
  4. Add garlic and cook over low heat for an additional 3-4 minutes.
  5. Serve on top of baby spinach and arugula. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on freshly ground black pepper.
*In theory, baby artichokes are entirely edible (choke and all), but I don't totally trust that. I always cut off just the tips of the purple leaves. You should be left with pale green leaves and soft artichoke flesh when your done. I love leaving the stems on to eat later - they're slightly tough, but still flavorful.

**You could also try a more traditional braising method by just dumping in all the braising liquid and cooking over low heat for a very long time. I figured that would make the artichokes mushy, instead of tender and caramelized (as they were in this recipe)

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