Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spaghetti with Baby Artichokes and Caper-Mint Sauce

It's rare to find the person who doesn't like artichokes. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, all have their detractors. But artichoke is an exceptionally likeable vegetable, albeit packaged in a prickly, difficult exterior. Artichokes tease you, offering only the tiniest morsel of pleasure per petal until you make it all the way down to the coveted heart. It's a reward that tastes all the better for being delayed.

Baby artichokes, on the other hand, put all the effort of getting to the edible bits squarely in the hands of the cook. Cleaning baby artichokes isn't all that hard once you get the hang of it, and as Nigella often points out, there's something slightly meditative about repetitive tasks in the kitchen.  Look for artichokes that are on the smaller side (they are less likely to contain a choke). I've also found that the rounded ones with tightly packed leaves have a better taste and texture than their pointier, looser-leaved brethren.  
Spaghetti with Baby Artichokes and Caper-Mint Sauce (adapted from Gourmet, June 2008)
The original recipe is for the artichokes alone, but that seemed pretty heavy to me. So I added some spaghetti the first time I made this and never looked back. That's right, I added pasta to make this dish lighter. It all makes sense in my head.

About a dozen baby artichokes (they should be roughly the size of lemons)
Large handful of dried spaghetti, preferably artisanal
½ a lemon
Olive oil
Salt to taste

1 small tin of anchovies in oil (or about 6 fillets), diced finely
A few sprigs of fresh mint (about 15 leaves), chopped
2½ tablespoon of capers, drained and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

1. First, prep the artichokes. Prepare a bowl of acidulated water to prevent the artichokes from browning as you're working (this is just cold water with a squeeze of lemon). Then take an artichoke and remove all the tough outer leaves until you see the pale yellow leaves at the center (should only be 2 or 3 layers down).  Cut off the tips of the leaves, leaving the bottom ⅔ of the artichoke intact. Cut off the stem at the base. Halve the artichoke, remove any choke with a paring knife or small spoon, and place both halves in the acidulated water. Continue with the rest of your artichokes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. You will be blanching your artichokes briefly and then reusing the water for your pasta, so make sure your pot is big enough. Once the water is at a steady boil, add your (drained) artichokes and cook for about four minutes. You do not want to overcook them, as they'll be hitting the grill next. Remove from the water and pat dry.

3. Heat a large grill pan. Bring the pot of water back to the boil and add a generous amount of salt (about three healthy pinches) for cooking the pasta. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions (probably around 7-9 minutes).

4. Toss the artichokes with a tablespoon of olive oil, then lay them on the grill pan. Cook for about 3-4 minutes per side over high heat. Meanwhile, mix all of the sauce ingredients together.

5. Your artichokes should be cooked just a few moments before the pasta is ready. Toss the artichokes quickly in the sauce, letting them soak up all the flavors. Then drain your pasta, reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid. Combine the pasta with the artichokes and sauce, loosening with a bit of pasta water if necessary. Dig in.

1 comment:

  1. I am having a dinner party tomorrow and was going to make a dish with artichokes - go figure, one of my friends is the rare person who doesn't like them! I, on the other hand, love them. I get especially excited about finding the baby artichokes without the choke! I am with you, they are so delicious on the grill!


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