I was casting about the Whole Foods produce department for a side dish idea, and these huge “frost-kissed” artichokes caught my eye. Apparently when the temperature drops below 32, artichokes develop a slightly ugly “rash” on the outside, but their flavor grows nuttier and more concentrated. It might be a bit of hype, but they were indeed delicious. My sister-in-law-to-be was hooked by the same “get ‘em while they last” sign the day before. Apparently they have our number, marketing wise.
I’ve grown slightly bored of my regular artichoke routines, boiled or steamed with melted butter or homemade mayonnaise, or occasionally stuffed with breadcrumbs, garlic and parmesan. Julia suggested a braise, and that was all I needed to leap into action. I didn’t get far in reading her recipe, because the whole idea was so appealing I just charged into the kitchen and made a tomato sauce flavored with red wine, garlic, capers, olives and herbs de Provence. I just combined all of the sauce ingredients and let them marry in the oven, without any sort of preliminary saute.
I think braising might be my new favorite was of preparing artichokes. There doesn’t seem to be the same risk of waterlogging that you get with boiling, and stove-top steaming requires an enormous pot and it is hard to get the vapor evenly distributed. Braising really just means steaming in the oven, where they can entertain themselves. It could have been beginner’s luck, but these came out perfectly tender but not at all mushy.
Of course braising in the tomato sauce does leave you with a deliciously messy eating experience, because you still have to pull off leaves and scrape them with your teeth as per usual. My wife said it was the vegetarian equivalent of needing a bib to eat whole crab. (I wouldn’t know). The chokes are all cleaned out, so after the leaves are eaten it is no big deal.
We ate these as a side dish but they were also great the next day over polenta. You could serve them cold as well.
And by the way, please don’t let anyone tell you to cut off the stem from an artichoke! What a waste that is. The stem tastes just like the artichoke heart. All you need to do is lightly peel it and trim any dark end.
Braised Artichokes in a Tomato-Red Wine Sauce
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free
Serves 4 as a side dish
- 4 huge globe artichokes, or more smaller ones
- 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (San Marzano if possible)
- 5 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
- 1/2 cup pitted and halved black olives – I used a Greek variety, but anything good is fine
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1 cup good red wine (I used some leftover Matthews Claret)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (or some combination of rosemary, marjoram or oregano, thyme)
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- fresh basil for garnish
- Preheat oven to 400.
- Cut off the top 3/4″ of each artichoke. Peel the stems. Pull off a ring or two of the tougher outer leaves. Cut in quarters, lengthwise. Remove the choke and pokey inner leaves. A grapefruit spoon works well for this.
- Pick a casserole (with a lid) or Dutch oven that will hold your artichokes with a little room. Fill with the artichokes and a 1/2 cup of water and microwave on high for ten minutes. (Obviously if you are using a metal vessel, you’ll want to microwave in a microwave safe bowl instead). You could probably skip this step, but I figured it would give them a good head start on the braise.
- Combine all of the remaining ingredients except the fresh basil. Taste and adjust salt or other seasonings as needed.
- Drain the artichokes, then return them to the casserole, alternating layes of sauce and artichokes, and arranging artfully if you see fit.
- Cover and bake until thoroughly tender when poked through a stem with a fork, about 40 minutes.
- Garnish with a chiffonade of the basil (or other fresh herb of your choice. I bet tarragon would be awesome).