Cooking and preparing artichokes is not as laborious as I once thought. My introduction to artichokes came by way of Italian author Marcella Hazan. Marcella was a wonderful cook and cookery writer who once claimed she could tell whether her food had been seasoned correctly by smelling it as it cooked.
Marcella’s recipe for artichoke risotto, published in her 1987 book Marcella’s Kitchen, distils the essence of artichoke. Rice is a perfect foil, particularly in the form of risotto, as it carries the purity of flavour of the artichoke without any distraction.
Truffle is another well-known bedfellow. Small, new-season artichokes called castraure are best used in this risotto, with the flesh of the artichoke dissolving into the dish as it cooks. A good homemade chicken stock, a splash of white wine and a little Parmesan to round things off is all that is needed.
I love the look of an artichoke on my kitchen bench, with its thistle-like Victorian austerity. This tamed weed – which is related to the thistle – has been cultivated in Italy for centuries.
Pickled artichokes make a regular appearance in delis and on antipasti platters about town. But the flavour of the artichoke is too often dominated by cheap, nasty vinegar.
To make your own pickled artichokes, bring two cups of water, a good pinch of salt and one cup of the best quality white wine vinegar to the boil with two tablespoons of honey. Boil peeled artichokes in this pickling mix until ready and then drain and transfer to a container, covering with extra virgin olive oil. The vinegar mix can then be used for other pickled vegetable preparations, such as onions, carrots or mushrooms.
The process of preparing artichokes is simple. Lemon juice, a good peeler and patience are all that is required. A vegetable peeler is better than a knife for peeling the bitter, outer skin away from the artichoke heart and stem. Often the stem is discarded, but it needn’t be. Lemon juice should be either brushed on the cut artichoke or added to a bowl of water for soaking the artichokes. This will inhibit discolouration.
Raw beef, raw artichoke and bottarga
A punchy entree for 4 people
– 1 lemon, juiced
– 2 large globe artichokes
– 20g great-quality hanger steak or porterhouse. Ask your butcher to trim it and slice it very thinly for you, laying the pieces out between plastic wrap
– sea salt flakes
– 1 long red mild chilli, seeded and thinly sliced
– 1 tbsp chopped chives
– ½ lemon, zest and juice
– 20g bottarga, or to taste (or substitute two anchovies, minced)
– 1½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Add the lemon juice to a container of water just large enough to hold the soon-to-be peeled artichokes.
Snap off the tough outer leaves of the artichokes. Trim the top half of the remaining leaves and peel the base. Cut in half lengthways and scoop out the fuzzy choke in the centre. Immediately place the artichokes in the acidulated water until you need them. This will help stop discolouration.
Spread the slices of beef over the base of a serving plate and season with a pinch of sea salt.
Using a mandolin, slice the artichoke hearts very thinly.
Mix together the artichoke, chives, chilli, lemon zest and juice. Strew this over the beef and finish the dish with thin slices of bottarga and the olive oil.
Artichokes with peas and bacon
Serves 4 as an entree or side dish
Podded broad beans are a worthy replacement for the peas, and the bacon can be omitted without compromising this dish.
– 6 small (baby) artichokes
– 75g smoked bacon, fine dice
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 bay leaf
– 4 sprigs thyme
– ¼ cup dry white wine
– 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
– small handful shredded mint
– juice of ½ lemon
– salt and freshly ground black pepper
Remove the tough outer leaves from the artichokes, peel their stems and cut them in half lengthways. Scoop out the fuzzy choke if it has developed. Drop the peeled artichokes into a bowl of water spiked with a little lemon juice to stop them discolouring.
Heat the olive oil in a pan just big enough to hold all the artichokes. Fry them cut-side down, over medium heat, until they are deeply golden. At this point, flip the artichoke pieces over and add the bacon, bay leaf and thyme. Continue cooking until the bacon gives up some of its fat, stirring from time to time. As the bacon begins to colour, pour in the wine and add the peas.
Simmer until the wine is almost evaporated and the peas and artichokes are cooked through. If the wine evaporates before the vegetables are ready, you can add a splash of water and continue to cook until ready.
Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes before stirring through the shredded mint and lemon juice.
Season to taste just before serving. This dish is great served warm or at room temperature.
2013 Bannockburn Vineyards sauvignon blanc, Geelong region ($31) – Liam O’Brien, sommelier, Cutler & Co.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 20, 2014 as "Golden globes". Subscribe here.