July 4th is upon us and it’s a beautiful time at the market. I went over this morning to see what would inspire me for today’s edition of Market Starts, and there I saw a rare treat: baby artichokes. Usually artichokes are around from March through May, and then again in October. Because these were an unexpected find I had to use them. The same farmer with the artichokes also had chervil, an elegant springtime herb that’s used a lot in French cooking. I knew I had a match: sautéed baby artichokes with fresh chervil.
Now I have to admit a fear of mine: cooking artichokes. I’ve always been intimidated by how much prep they require, how they have to be stored in lemon water once they’re cut or they turn brown, and how easy it is to overcook or undercook them. I thought about walking right past the artichokes and going for something less challenging, but then I remembered that baby artichokes require only half the work of the large globe variety. Because they’re so small they haven’t formed the fuzzy inner choke that requires so much careful trimming, and they are fully cooked in 20 minutes or less. I decided to face my fears and bought the chokes. I’m so glad I did because this recipe is really easy and the dish is delicious.
If you can’t find baby artichokes or you’d like to substitute another summer vegetable, try replacing the chokes with sliced zucchini, patty pan squash, broccoli, or green beans. For something really special try fresh fava beans. All of these will pair well with garlic and chervil.
A word about chervil. It has a mild licorice taste, being a member of the same family as anise and fennel. It’s slightly sweet and adds a cooling herbal zing to summer dishes. Chervil is one of the staples of classic French cooking. Along with chives, tarragon and parsley, it is used as an aromatic seasoning blend called “Fines Herbes” that’s used to season eggs, fish, chicken, dressing, and sauces. Fresh chervil resembles pretty green lace so it makes an ideal garnish, but its delicate quality means it has the most flavor when minimally heated. Chervil is best stirred into a dish after it has come off the heat, as in this recipe, or used raw in a salad dressing.
Time: 1 hour
12 baby artichokes, cleaned and trimmed
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup stock or water
Salt and pepper
½ bunch of chervil, cleaned, dried, and roughly chopped
Rinse the artichokes. Fill a bowl halfway with water, and squeeze in the juice of 2 lemons.
Trim the artichokes. Start by cutting off the base of each artichoke right where the stem comes out of the leaves. Drop the cut artichokes into the lemon water as you work, to keep them from turning brown. Now pull a choke out of the water and remove all the rough green leaves around the base by peeling them back and snapping them off until you reach leaves that are yellow and tender. Slice off the pointed tip of the artichoke and discard. If it’s very small, leave the artichoke whole, otherwise cut in half. Replace the artichoke in the lemon water. Repeat until all artichokes are trimmed.
Now, heat a sauté pan. While it’s heating, drain the artichokes from the lemon water. When the pan is hot add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Toss in the garlic and stir for about 10 seconds. Then add the chokes and about a tablespoon of salt and stir for 1 minute. Now add in the stock, cover and bring to a boil. After the stock comes to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and let artichokes cook for 20 minutes, or until tender.
When the chokes are tender, remove them from the heat. Stir in the minced chervil. Taste the broth for salt and season as needed. To serve, place 5 artichoke halves on a plate with a spoonful of the cooking broth, top with fresh ground black pepper and a drizzle of lemon juice. Garnish with a sprig or two of chervil.
Yield: 4 servings