Recipe for Braised Baby Artichokes bathed in a sauce made from a reduction of the braising liquid, anchovies and capers.
The birds outside are particularly chirpy today and it just might mean sprinter, spring that feels and acts like winter, is moving out. The light sing-song of robins is so cheerful and upbeat, it is hard to imagine anymore sprinter surprises. As I gaze outside my window, I can see all the animals in my yard scampering about like preschoolers on a play-date. “Olly Olly all come free,” it is safe to come out of hiding.
What does all this wildlife activity have to do with food? It is a reminder and affirmation of good things to come. Something which I appreciate after the long winter hibernation. The first of the local spring vegetables are ramps, spring mushrooms, and asparagus. Yet, these local harvests are not yet available, and I must look westward and south for fresh produce. I am so envious of the produce I see displayed all over Instagram from California farmers markets. California food bloggers and chefs spill their bounty on the kitchen counter and photograph their treasures for all of us to see, making me want to transport myself into their photo. Our day will come, at least the ground is no longer frozen.
Recipes with Spring Produce
California Baby Artichokes
In the meantime, we can enjoy produce, like baby artichokes, from California and pretend we are in full spring bloom. Baby artichokes are spilling over the produce baskets at grocery stores across the country. They are more tender than full size artichokes, but no less flavorful. At this stage the baby artichoke bud has yet to develop the choke, making them slightly easier to prepare and eat. I believe them to be the perfect size and an ideal first course meal or appetizer.
Seeing artichokes always brings me back to my childhood in Northern California, where artichoke plants grew wild in the hills around my neighborhood. I thought they were the strangest looking plants around and I never touched them. To me they were like the dinosaurs of the plant kingdom, with their prickly and ancient looking buds and jagged leaves.
I’ll never forget the first time I ate an artichoke when I was a young girl. I gladly tried them being ever so eager to appear older and more sophisticated than I was. As I sat staring at my steamed artichoke, I studiously watched and listened to Dad’s instruction as he peeled off each leaf, dip the bottom fleshy part in warm melted butter then scrape off the meat between his teeth. With each step, Dad would explain and demonstrate how to get to the heart of the artichoke, what he referred as the “prize” and purpose for all that work. He spoke so ominously about the choke, saying we would choke if we ate the choke, hence the name. This terrified me, but his safe and loving expression in his fatherly eyes told another story, so I proceeded cautiously but without hesitation.
Braised Baby Artichokes
Up front there is more prep work when you braise baby artichoke hearts, as opposed to steaming them whole, but the hearts get nicely flavored from the braising liquid and become so tender. Fortunately, because they are small it does not take that much time to trim off all the outer leaves. Braised artichokes are delicious eaten straight from the braising liquid, but I like serving them with a warm sauce made with the braising liquid and anchovies and capers. The anchovies and capers add extra body which compliments the mild artichoke flavor but does not overwhelm it. I purposely kept the anchovies on the light side for that reason.
If you are not a fan of anchovies, reduce the braising liquid as mentioned but omit the anchovies. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your preference then drizzle the sauce over the baby artichokes. This cooking method is also delicious with full-grown artichoke hearts.
Braised Baby Artichokes with Anchovy Caper Sauce
Baby Artichokes are braised in a stock seasoned with lemon, garlic, white wine and herbs. The artichokes are finished with a sauce made with a reduction of the braising liquid, anchovies and capers. There is just enough of the anchovy flavor to compliment the artichokes.
Delicious first course meal, appetizer or vegetable side dish.
- 16 baby artichokes about 1 lb. 9 oz (729 g)
- bowl full of water
- 1 lemon
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 4 sage leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and green germ removed
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 5 black pepper corns
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
Anchovy Caper Sauce
- Braising Liquid
- 2 T TB extra virgin olive oil Or butter
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 1 tsp capers drained and rinsed
- 1 TB white wine or vermouth (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- garnish with chopped parsley or chives
Peel off three strips of lemon peel with a vegetable peeler. Set them aside. Thinly slice the garlic cloves and set aside.
Fill a medium bowl with water and the juice of one lemon. You want just enough water to cover the artichokes.
Trim the artichokes. Pull off the tough outer leaves by pulling them straight down and off. Continue until all the tough leaves are off until you get to the tender light green leaves.
With a sharp paring knife, trim a sliver off the end of each stem and clean around the edge where you pulled off the leaves. You do not want to cut away any of the artichoke meat, just trim the base to clean off any fibrous parts. Trim off about a 1/4 inch off the top of the baby artichoke.
Cut the artichoke lengthwise into quarters. As soon as you are finished prepping each artichoke, add the sliced wedges into the bowl filled with lemon water. The lemon water will prevent the artichokes from discoloring.
In a sauté pan add 2 TB of extra virgin olive oil and heat up over medium heat. Add the slices of garlic, lemon peels, sage, bay leaf, black peppercorns, fennel seeds to the olive oil and sauté for about a minute. Add the artichokes, 2 1/2 cups (625 ml) of the lemon water and Kosher salt, and bring to a boil. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and turn down the heat. Simmer the artichokes until they are tender when pierced with a fork or to taste, about 20 minutes.
Once the artichokes are tender remove them using a slotted spoon and place in a bowl to keep warm. Taste the braising liquid and add wine or vermouth if needed. Boil the braising liquid and reduce to a 1/2 cup (125 ml). Add the anchovies and break them up in the sauce. Add the capers. Simmer briefly to meld the flavors and taste. Adjust the sauce with more wine or other seasoning if needed.
Arrange the artichokes on a platter or shallow bowl, drizzled with the anchovy caper sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon zest.
Braised baby artichokes are best eaten warm or at room temperature. The braised artichokes can be chilled, but the sauce should be warm.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Every time I walk around the Farmers Market I feel like I am on a treasure hunt. There is an element of familiarity with each vender, but also curiosity as the seasons transition from the sparse offerings of early spring to the abundant fall harvest. At every visit, I anticipate the changing produce and new discoveries. Fortunately, this past week was no exception for I discovered sorrel.
In my area, sorrel is only available at Farmers Markets. It is a green leafy vegetable with a bright lemony flavor. It is a hardy plant but for some reason does not have wide appeal. However, every vegetable centered cookbook I own has a few sorrel recipes. Therefore, it must have some appeal. If Deborah Madison and Alice Walters took the time to highlight this vegetable, it is worth bringing home to see for myself.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Every Spring tender asparagus spears emerge out of the dirt, like miniature trees from an underground world. It is so cool how the spears seem to pop up out of nothing and creep upward toward the sun. It is a wonder to me how these funny looking green stalks grow.
Up until a few years ago, I had no clue about their growth habit until I saw them sprouting in my sister’s garden. Also, the spears don’t just die away after weeks of cutting them back. Eventually, the remaining tips of the spears will loosen and sprout forth 4 to 6 foot feathery fronds for the remaining summer. Fortunately, come the following Spring, this miracle occurs again and asparagus spears emerge for another season.
If an opportunity comes your way, eating freshly picked asparagus is a special treat. Even if you do not like asparagus, you might be pleasantly surprised once you have tasted the newly picked spears. It is a wonder how different freshly grown asparagus tastes compared to the store-bought kind. There is a slightly bitter, slightly sweet, distinctive greenish earthy flavor. Honestly, any vegetable straight from a garden tastes better because it is fresher and given more TLC. I am always grateful for the garden gifts from my sister and friends.
Like a lot of vegetables, asparagus is very easy to prepare and does not require a detailed recipe to enjoy. The most important consideration is to not over cook them. The total amount of cooking time will depend on how thick the spears are, and your method of cooking. Some of my favorite ways to cook asparagus are: simmering, braising, roasting, and grilling. All methods produce good results. Ultimately, no matter which way you want to prepare them, just cook them until they are tender and have a slight crispness when you bite into one.
How to Prep Asparagus
If you have never made asparagus here are some tips. There is some debate about how to prep asparagus. Should you peel them? Do the ends need trimming? Do you need a fancy asparagus steamer to make them? First, no fancy steamer pot required. I am not a big gadget person and work very hard to buy kitchen items that have more than one purpose. Steaming is a great way to cook asparagus and can effectively be done without an asparagus steamer in a microwave oven.
Trimming off the woody ends is a good idea, especially for the thicker stalks. Thin stalks don’t always need to be trimmed, but the thick ones do. I usually hold the bottom of a spear with one hand and place the other hand near the center of the stalk, then bend the two points downwards. The theory is asparagus will break at the place where the woody tip ends. This sounds good in theory, but it does not work perfectly all the time. Unfortunately, sometimes bending the stalk breaks off tender and edible sections.
Another trimming method is, to line the asparagus up end to end and cut off the ends about 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches from the bottom. You can see a change in color in the spear as they it gets less woody. The woody part will be whiter in color. Additionally, you can feel with your fingertips where the woody part ends. The woody part will be harder and denser.
To peel or not to peel, that is the question. My answer is sometimes I peel the spears, sometimes I don’t. There is no particular reason for my decision and most of the time I leave the spears alone. Honestly, it depends on how much time I have or how fancy I want to be. If you have older and fatter asparagus, the skin is tougher and not as pleasant to eat. Whereas the thinner stalks have tender skin and easier to eat.
To peel the skin, hold the asparagus near the tip in your non-active hand with the cut end pointing away from you. Hold the vegetable peeler in the other hand and begin in a downward motion, peeling off the skin. Start about a third of the way down from the tip and move to the bottom. You don’t want to peel off a lot of the spear, only the thin layer of skin.
When I am in a hurry or preoccupied with another part of the meal, I like to simmer asparagus for around 4 minutes in salted boiling water. Once drained, I give them a light coating of olive oil, a sprinkle of flaky sea salt and add minced herbs and/or lemon zest. It is as easy as that. You can add lemon juice or any acid, but it will change the color from bright green to khaki green.
There are times when I want to give my vegetables some extra pizzazz as a part of a composed meal. Asparagus with orange mayonnaise dressing adds pizzazz and offers an unexpected flavor with your asparagus and dinner. It is perfect for asparagus served at room temperature or cold. This recipe is easily adaptable, just add the amount of orange juice to give your mayonnaise the consistently and orange flavor that you want. Additionally, it is easy to prepare a head of time and If you own an immersion blender, even easier to make.
Homemade mayonnaise is a new discovery of mine. I love how light the flavor is. Some recipes call for extra virgin olive oil, but I find that it has too strong of a flavor so I use olive oil instead. If you do not have a blender, food processor or immersion blender, you can still make mayonnaise the old-fashioned way. Use a sturdy bowl, a good wire whisk, and a lot of continuous whisking by hand power. I think it is worth it.
This recipe is a combo of two. I used J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s technique for quick homemade mayonnaise using an immersion blender. His technique has produced the most consistent results for me. I have made mayonnaise with my food processor, but the success depends on how slowly the oil drips into the eggs while the machine is running.
The orange mayonnaise comes from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I was intrigued with her suggestion to use this with asparagus and wanted to try it out. I love her work and she is a great resource for vegetarian cooking.
As usual, Deborah Madison is right on. The orange mayonnaise brings a delicate and unexpected fruity orange flavor with the asparagus. She also recommends using the orange mayonnaise with broccoli, fennel, and cauliflower.
Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise Dressing
For the Asparagus
- 1 pound asparagus cleaned and woody ends trimmed
- Kosher salt
Orange Mayonnaise Dressing
- 1 cup homemade mayonnaise
- zest from half an orange
- 4 Tbs freshly squeezed orange juice or more to taste
Mayonnaise - makes 2 cups
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 Tbs lemon juice
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- One small clove garlic finely minced or grated with a microplane (optional)
- pinch of Kosher salt
- 1-2 Tbs water
- 1 cup of canola oil
- 1 cup olive oil
Trim the asparagus as needed. If you peel them, hold each asparagus at the tip and beginning around a third of the way down, gently peel off the thin skin with a vegetable peeler. Peel down lengthwise along the steam and work your way around.
Prepare an ice bath for the asparagus. Fill a medium bowl part way with ice and add water to cover. Set the bowl aside near the stove.
Put water in a shallow sauce pan and add a pinch of kosher salt. Turn the heat to high and bring the water to a bowl. Add the trimmed asparagus and simmer in the boiling water about 4 minutes. The total cooking time will depend on how thick the asparagus spears are. The asparagus should be tender, but still have some crispness and look bright green.
Remove the asparagus with tongs or a spider, and place in the ice bath to stop the cooking and keep the asparagus bright green.
Once cooled, remove the asparagus from the ice bath and dry on clean kitchen towel. (Ahead of time note, wrap the asparagus in a paper towel and place in a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator until you need them. Eat the asparagus the same day you cook them.
Immersion blender method by Kenji Lopez-Alt: Use a tall cup just large enough for the immersion blender head to fit in, place the egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, salt, and one tablespoon of water inside the cup. Slowly add the canola oil to the eggs then slide the head of the immersion blender inside the cup until it rests on the bottom. Hold onto the cup with one hand and turn on the immersion blender. The egg and oil will begin to emulsify. As the oil get pulled down to the bottom, very slowly raise the immersion blender up. You will see the mayonnaise begin to form and the oil being sucked towards to bottom and emulsify.
Once all the oil has emulsified, turn off the immersion blender and scrape out with a rubber spatula, the mayonnaise into a small mixing bowl large enough to whisk in the remaining oil. Hold the bowl steady with your inactive hand and whisk up the mayonnaise. Drizzle in the olive oil small amounts at a time, about a tablespoon, into the mayonnaise, and vigorously whisk the mayonnaise to incorporate the olive oil. Continue to whisk in the olive oil in small increments until all the oil is added. The mayonnaise will last for two weeks in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Orange Mayonnaise Dressing
Add one cup of homemade mayonnaise to a small mixing bowl. Add the orange zest and 2 tablespoons of the orange juice. Whisk all the ingredients together. Taste the mayonnaise and add more orange juice, one tablespoon at a time until you get the right flavor and consistency you want. The orange mayonnaise will last for about one week in the refrigerator.
When done, spoon into a small serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to serve the asparagus.
Arrange the asparagus on a serving plate and drizzle the orange mayonnaise across the asparagus.
Homemade mayonnaise in a blender or food processor.
Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard, pinch of salt, garlic (if using), and one tablespoon of water into the bowl of your appliance. Mix together. With the motor running very slowly add the canola oil through the hole of the feed tube. Add the olive oil by hand the same way as described for the immersion blender technique.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Do you know that feeling you get when the family or friends are together and all is good with the world? It can happen spontaneously by a simple gesture or after a big heartfelt moment. I treasure those moments, the feeling of complete satisfaction and joy. Peace. At those times the little things do add up and are greatly appreciated. A simple “Thank you”, carries a generous statement of gratitude. “You are doing a great job”, gives a small boost of confidence. “I am here”, builds reassurance that you are not alone. Even a home cooked meal gives family and friends a time and place to gather, share show gratitude, promote confidence and feel connected.
I know it sounds cliché, but in our home that moment and feeling would happen when we served pasta for dinner. When pasta was on the table, everyone was happy. A pasta dinner satisfied all taste and food preferences in the family. There were no protests at dinner, even if it did include an ingredient that was not a particular favorite. That offending food would get pushed aside and everything else devoured without complaint. When the, “… What?… Why? …Really?…Again? …I hate that,” dinner drama was not a focal point of the evening, the five of us would be relaxed, the conversation would flow, jokes told, and all was right with the world.
On the occasions when I combined two favorite foods in one meal, that made the evening a special occasion. My children love ham almost as much as they love pasta and a dinner of pasta with ham, (and peas), filled them with joy. Andrew, Evan and Taylor loved it so much, they ate the peas without complaint. If I asked any one of them what they wanted for dinner, pasta with ham was frequently requested.
Now that my sons are independent, they enjoy cooking this meal for their friends and significant others. Often, on a late weekend afternoon, I would get a call asking me how to make this pasta dinner. My oldest son, Andrew, claims that it was after he made pasta with ham and spring vegetables for Amanda, “the woman of his dreams”, their relationship went from casual to true love. Now, Andrew and Amanda are happily married so don’t underestimate the power of a good home cooked pasta dinner.
When it’s pasta for dinner, all is right with the world.
Pasta with Ham and Spring Vegetables
- 1 lb pasta penne, farfalle or fusilli are great choices
- 12 oz cured ham sliced in strips 1 inch by 1/4 inch
- 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
- 1 to 2 lbs of asparagus
- 1 small leek cleaned and white and light green parts sliced thin
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth preferably homemade or low salt store bought
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 2 Tbls chopped fresh tarragon plus one sprig of tarragon
- 1 Tb olive oil
- 1-2 Tb butter
- Kosher salt
Prep all ingredients before you begin cooking.
Clean and cut off the woody end of each asparagus spear. Hold onto to each end of an asparagus spear and bend it bringing both ends together. Where it snaps off, the bottom portion is the woody tip, discard. Cut the remainder of the asparagus spears into thirds.
Peel the garlic and remove the green germ (sprout of a new garlic plant), then mince the garlic,
Slice the ham to even strips shorter than the asparagus.
Fill a 5 qt stock pot halfway to three quarters full with fresh water. Set the stock pot with the water on a burner and turn the heat to high. Bring the water to a rapid boil and cook pasta according to the directions on the back of the pasta box.
Reserve some of the pasta cooking water when finished cooking.
Make the spring vegetable and ham sauce.
Begin preparing the sauce while you are waiting for the water to boil. Melt 1 Tbl olive oil and 1 Tbl butter in a large 12-inch skillet, or sauté pan. Once the butter has melted add the leeks and garlic to the pan. Add a small pinch of Kosher salt and sauté stirring lightly. Add the prepared asparagus and tarragon spear to the leeks and briefly sauté. Add about 1/2 cup vegetable broth, cover the pan, and braise the vegetables on medium heat for about 5 minutes. The asparagus will not be completely cooked through at this point. You want them to still be crisp with some liquid in the pan. Take the top off the skillet and add the sliced ham and peas. Continue cooking the vegetable and ham mixture at a low simmer, uncovered. This should be around 3-5 minutes before the pasta is done. You are just warming up the ham and peas since they are already cooked.
Putting it all together
Once the pasta is done, turn off the heat, scoop out some pasta cooking water and set aside, and drain out the water through a strainer. Return the pasta to the pot on the stove. Add the grated cheese and a small amount of the pasta water, start with about 1/4 cup or less, to the pasta and stir until the cheese is melted and everything is evenly distributed. Add the vegetable and ham sauce, minced tarragon, and 1 Tb of butter or olive oil to he pasta. Stir until mixed through.
Serve immediately with grated cheese and fresh ground black pepper on the side.
1.It is hard to mess up with pasta, with the exception of overcooking it. Over cooked pasta is mushy and miserable. Use the back of the box as a guideline for cooking time and begin tasting a couple of minutes before the recommended total cooking time. Cook the pasta al dente. There will still be a firm texture, but not chewy or raw tasting. The color of the pasta will have an even appearance and there will be nothing mushy or gummy about it. 2. Just like overcooked pasta, overcooked vegetables are a major disappointment. They lose their shape, texture and flavor when they are overcooked. I like my vegetables cooked but still crisp in texture with a bit of freshness left in them. Watch the vegetables and taste for desired doneness.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.