Mediterranean summer feeling on a cold November night

When I was passing by my local vegetables dealer this morning I simply couldn’t resist buying one of the sooo yummy looking artichokes – just lying around they look like art. Every time I see them I think of a warm summer night in Tuscany, a romantic dinner outside, cobblestone paving, dim lights, a good glass of wine and cricket buzz in the background. Well, actually also a dog that once peed on my leg when I was eating, but that’s another story..

So, today I decided to get some summer feeling into my cold November kitchen and cook an artichoke (obviously I started by opening a bottle of Italian wine and turning up the heating – this gets you any summer feeling you want without cooking. You can essentially ignore the rest of the post and just look at the picture below…).

Like you will hear very often regarding all kinds of food, I’ve never made artichokes before. To be very honest, I didn’t even know how to properly eat them until not very long ago. After I almost returned a basically uneaten artichoke in the belief that I was done with it after just nibbling on the leaves, a waiter in an Italian restaurant in London took pity on me and explained how to get to the best part, the “heart”, of the artichoke. Pretty embarassing given how easy it is…

Anyway, today was the day to master the artichokes. With a certain degree of caution I decided that for now it would be an “experiment” just for myself – inviting friends over to dinner would be step 2. Luckily enough I found out that cooking an artichoke is a) quite easy; b) takes a bit of time, but you can use it to do lots of other things in parallel since no “active” cooking is needed for 45min (to follow my example get the mentioned glass of white wine and browse through an Italy travel guide to get into the right mood) and c) does not require lots of ingredients

(btw, for all the German readers out there: I strongly recommend the following guides for weekend trips. Really great pictures and authentic/local cooking recipes)

Preparation time:  15min

Cooking time: 45min

1 whole artichoke
1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
4 thyme branches
2 bay leaves
1 bottle of white wine

For the vinegar
6 large spoons olive oil
4 large spoons white balsamic vinegar
1 shallot
2 dried tomato slices
thyme leaves
salt (best to take granulate sea salt)

How to prepare it:
Fill a pot (large enough so that the artichoke can be completely covered with liquid) with water and 250ml of white wine; cut the lemon in two halves, squeeze some of the juice into the water and then put the two halves into the water, add two garlic cloves, the bay leaves and thyme, some salt and pepper.

To prepare the artichoke remove its stick (in order not to ruin the artichoke heart do not cut the stick off but break it off by using the edge of the kitchen countertop as a lever). Then peel off the hard first layer of leaves and cut off the top (c. 3cm) of the other leaves.

Once the water starts boiling put in the artichoke and cover the pot. Let it boil on medium heat for c. 45min and check from time to time whether the artichoke is still completely covered with liquid. If not add some more of the water/white wine mixture.

To prepare the vinegar mix olive oil and white balsamic vinegar in a small bowl (if you do not have balsamic vinegar which is usually a bit sweeter, take any regular vinegar and add a bit of sugar to it). Chop the shallot and the dried tomato into small pieces and add it to the oil/vinegar mixture. Add a good pinch of salt, pepper and thyme. Let it rest for an hour. Serve on the side as a dip.

How to serveI would recommend serving the artichoke as a starter with some Italian bread; best to serve when it’s still warm (though not hot)

And last but not least a little guide to how to actually eat the artichoke (for dummies like me):
First peel off the leaves and “suck” off the more meaty part with your teeth. When you get to the really small leaves, simply take them off and put them aside (there is too little meat on them to make them worth eating). You will soon see that there is a part on the bottom of the artichoke that looks really “hairy” (and not too delicious). Take a sharp knife and cut it off. Below it you will discover the artichoke heart. Once uncovered and cleaned of “hair” it can be eaten with with a fork and a knife.

Bon appétit!


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