I’m keeping it simple this afternoon with a post inspired by the beautiful babies my friend Alva picked up for me in Dallas. Here they are. Gorgeous, yes?
I have eaten baby artichokes in restaurants, but never prepared them, so I turned to an expert: Mario Batali. I found his recipe for carciofata (an Italian vegetable appetizer rich with sundried tomatoes, baby artichokes, currants and fresh herbs) on the Food Network website and felt certain of impending success. The dish sounded like everything I love to eat, plus the prep time of 15 minutes, cook time of 20, matched my Wednesday evening attention span. Here’s the link:
Mario Batali's Carciofata Recipe
Cleaning the artichokes wasn’t the daunting task I expected: simply snap off the lower petals until you reach the yellow-green core, then cut off the top half inch of the leaves (just below the green tips). Finally, trim all of the remaining green areas from the base and slice in half—that’s it. I found the repetition therapeutic. Here are step by step instructions with photos (this is the webspage for the brand of artichokes I had: Ocean Mist Baby Artichoke Preparation).
In no time, the carciofata reduced to thick, caramelized goodness, brightened by the addition of fresh basil, mint and parsley. I served it up with thick slices of ciabatta toast and grilled (a la Foreman—don’t be too impressed) chicken sausages.
(carciofata just before adding the herbs)
It is delectable. Not, “oh, this is pleasant vegetable side” but “are you sure these are vegetables, because I could devour the whole pan” good. I have a short list of things I refuse to do in front of my husband; licking my plate is one of them. But next day at lunch, while Kevin worked and baby Nick napped, I did just that with the leftovers.
I did tweak the recipe in a few ways:
(1) I used a LOT less olive oil (3 tablespoons instead of 10—good grief, Mario!) I sautéed in the three tablespoons oil and didn’t add any more at the end as he directed.
(2) I used chopped raisins instead of currants (supermarket was out)
(3) I doubled the amount of sundried tomatoes.
(4) Mario says a bunch of parsley equals a 1/4 cup chopped—that must be a tiny bunch of parsley. A little goes a long way with me, so I kept it to 3 tablespoons so it wouldn’t overpower the basil and mint (which are fabulous!)
(5) Finally: no baby artichokes? No problem. I made this again yesterday with 2 8-ounce packages of frozen (thawed) artichoke hearts (I wanted to see if it worked and I couldn’t wait to find out; I’m just obsessive that way). It was equally heavenly (and a lot less work).
Last, in my quest for food enlightenment, I looked up the nutrition for artichokes. I wasn’t expecting much (Thistles? Healthy? I was doubtful), so I was doubly pleased at what I uncovered: they are prickly powerhouses. I have the good news below.
Artichoke Nutrition Notes:Artichokes are rich in iodine, low in calories, and high in fiber, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, chromium, manganese, potassium, iron, and calcium. They also contain a potent photochemical called cynarin, which improves liver and gallbladder function and lowers bad (LDL) blood cholesterol levels. Artichokes are also easy to digest, increase overall energy, and have a neutralizing effect on some toxic substances. In addition, artichokes benefit heart activity and the speed of blood clotting.