Artichokes with Romesco Sauce Say Spring - No. 194
While spring officially begins March 20, what’s wrong with getting a few artichoke recipes ready?
GROWING UP, I KNEW THE PHRASE ‘’rushing the season.’’ If you wore pastels before the end of winter, corduroy in summer, or worse yet, white shoes after Labor Day, you were fashionably ahead of things, or more to the point, rushing the season.
It seems a ridiculous concept today what with more relaxed fashion norms, global warming, and tropical places like Florida where wardrobes never need to be rotated.
But I know you didn’t come here for me to talk about fashion. I can’t help that spring is on my mind as I drove into Athens, Georgia late Sunday afternoon, and the pear trees were flocked with fat white blossoms, the redbuds had burst into full fuchsia display, and everyone was chatting about the white pompom viburnums about to pop while I’m here if I’m lucky. Yes, they’re geeky flower lovers, but so am I. And we’re all ready for spring!
This week begins the final week of photographing recipes for my new book in Athens, and I’ll be up to my eyebrows in biscuits and cornbread about the time you open this letter.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t cook like it’s springtime. So I am sharing a favorite recipe for artichokes created by my friend David Patterson. In the hollows of his pan-seared artichokes, like a vivid red lava pool, sits a zesty tomato and almond Romesco sauce for dipping.
Artichokes are the buds of thistle plants. Once cooked, the fuzzy center called the choke is scraped away to expose the core, the meaty heart. And at the bottom of the heart is the ‘’bottom,’’ which has a nutty flavor and should be savored on its own with fork and knife.
Most of our artichokes come from California, and that state’s artichoke history began 100 years ago when the first shoots were planted in a farming community called Castroville, 15 miles northeast of Monterey. Artichokes had been brought to California by Italian immigrants in the late 19th century.
California has been in the news lately for freakish snow storms, but I checked the weather maps to make sure Castroville hadn’t been dumped with snow and our springtime artichokes frozen in the fields. In addition to being no fashion writer, I am no weatherman, but even I could deduce from the maps that the artichokes weren’t in danger.
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Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but so are artichokes…
Castroville’s first Artichoke Queen, in 1948, was none other than Norma Jeane Mortenson, who would officially become Marilyn Monroe in 1956.
According to various reports and super credible sources like Wikipedia, she was an eager young starlet happy for the exposure that this title might offer her. And it obviously paid off. In the years that followed, both Monroe and Castroville’s artichoke industry went on to achieve success. Castroville became the “Artichoke Center of the World and the home of the Artichoke Festival.
And in just a few weeks, we’re about to celebrate National Artichoke Heart Day on March 16.
My first taste of a freshly steamed artichoke was in high school French class.
Our teacher, Madame Nelson, prepared a ‘’French’’ dinner with cheese souffle, chocolate mousse, and steamed artichokes we dipped into melted butter. No knives or forks needed, we were told to pull the leaves off the artichoke with our fingers and to dip them into the butter and drag the meaty end of the leaf between our teeth, thus gaining a micro-bite of nutty artichoke flavor.
To my mother, these fancy steamed artichokes were all show. She was a fan of the canned artichoke hearts and folded them in every casserole imaginable.
But I know she would have loved to try David’s artichokes with Romesco sauce. It’s a little fussy with the steps to steam, clean, and then sear, but nothing brings on spring better than this recipe.
And nothing sears those artichokes better and delivers more flavor than an iron skillet. I hope you enjoy this recipe from my book, Skillet Love. Apologies for no print button, but once I’m back in my office, I’ll add that button next week.
Maybe it will bring on spring!
How do you rush the spring season?
For Thursday Subscribers…
Behind the scenes at the Photo Shoot Part II. Searching for figs in mid-winter, and chef Hugh Acheson comes to the rescue. What happens when a group of local preschoolers crashes your photo shoot. And how to make homemade tartlet shells when you can’t find them frozen. Yes, it’s random, but it’s packed with goodies!
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Pan Griddled Artichokes with Fresh Romesco Sauce
I have adapted this recipe for the cast iron skillet for those times when you don't want to heat up the grill. The first step is to cook the artichokes in a big pot - which can be done a day ahead - and then you sear the artichoke halves with the heat of the cast iron pan. The sauce is made ahead - my version of the distinctive Spanish Romesco - the tomato, pepper, almond, and paprika sauce of Spain’s Catalan region. If you make the sauce a day ahead, chill it and then let it come to room temperature before spooning into the artichoke hollows. This is beautiful as a starter, or part of a large vegetable buffet, or delicious alongside grilled chicken or fish.
Makes 8 servings
Prep: 35 to 40 minutes
Cook: 50 to 60 minutes
4 large artichokes
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
Fresh Romesco Sauce:
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup (8 ounces, about) roasted red peppers, from the jar and cut into pieces
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup toasted, chopped almonds
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon sweet paprika (see Note)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Bring a tea kettle of water to a boil. Trim the outer leaves of the artichokes. Cut off the thorny tips of each leaf. Cut the stem level at the base so that it rests flat. Stand the artichokes up, side by side, in a large pot. Add enough of the boiling water to come about a third of the way up the artichokes. Cover the pot, and let the artichokes simmer over low heat until a leaf pulls out easily, about 40 to 45 minutes.
2. Drain the artichokes, and let them rest until cool to the touch, about 20 minutes. Slice them in half lengthwise, through the stem, and with a small spoon, scoop out the choke from the center of each each half. Brush the cut edges of the artichoke halves with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Set aside.
3. Make the Fresh Romesco Sauce: With the motor of the food processor running, drop the garlic through the feed tube and let it process. Stop the machine and add the peppers, tomatoes, almonds, sherry vinegar, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Process in 10 to 15 pulses, or until the ingredients are nearly smooth. With the motor running, pour in the olive oil, and process until thickened, about 15 seconds. Turn off the machine, and season the sauce with salt and pepper, if desired. Set the sauce aside.
4. Place a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until quite hot, about 3 minutes. Dribble in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Working with 2 to 3 halves at a time, place the artichoke halves cut-side down in the hot skillet. Let them sear for 2 minutes, without peeking, then run a spatula underneath them, and peek. If well-browned, remove them from the skillet to a platter. If not well-browned, leave in the pan another minute. Continue to sear the artichoke halves until all are done.
5. To serve, spoon the Fresh Romesco Sauce into the hollow of each artichoke. Serve more sauce to the side. To eat, pull off the leaves and dip them into the sauce, then using a knife and fork, cut the artichoke bottom into pieces.
Note: Most recipes for Romesco call for smoked paprika, but I prefer sweet paprika because it allows the subtle flavor of the artichokes to come through.
2 cooked whole artichokes in the fridge. My “go to” sauce. Equal parts Hellman’s Mayo and sour cream. Add lemon zest and some lemon juice and salt.
So that’s how you make Romesco! My husband and I honeymooned in Barcelona, and that’s where I had that sauce. Thanks for the great recipe.