I absolutely love artichokes nearly to the point of obsession. I eat them at every opportunity. At our New Year's Eve party, I created a pink peppercorn dipping sauce that was truly fantastic. I knew then that I wanted to try it with artichokes and just had to think about how I wanted to cook and present the combination for all of you.
The result; my "Braised Artichoke with Pink Peppercorn Dipping Sauce".
You get a bonus round in this posting, I include both of my recipes, instead of just one!
As I was growing up, we ate artichokes one way in my family: the Sicilian manner that our landlady, Nunzia, taught my mother when I was still an infant. Nunzia's Sicilian preparation is delicious, and the only way we ever did it when I was growing up. In essence, you boil/steam the artichokes and have them stuffed whole with onions, cheese, breadcrumbs and drizzled olive oil on top. Decadent. We never dipped them in butter and lemon or made a simple aioli, like most Americans do. My brother prepared his own variation humorously called "Heart-ichokes" over Christmas, and it was similar to Mom's but a lot more gooey, yummy stuff inside and loads of garlic salt. It was also delicious and the "heart" refers to the high levels of fat in his recipe that would clog those arteries.
I like to steam, braise, fry, toast, shave and eat raw, puree, or sauté my artichokes. Any preparation, I've tried it at this point. For this recipe, which I intended from the beginning to be a marriage with the dip, I wanted loads of flavor in the artichoke itself, and the leaves completely unadorned. I chose a variation on braising (skipping the typical browning process) and loading the broth with lots of delicious aromatics. The dip was intended to be the artichoke's sole condiment, since it is very rich and flavorful. Incidentally, pink peppercorns are not really a peppercorn at all, they are the dried fruit of the Baies Rose plant. They do, however, have a very delicate peppery flavor, far more light than black pepper. Prized in France, they are notoriously expensive, but worth the splurge occasionally.
On with the recipes.
"Pink Peppercorn Dipping Sauce"
Yields 1 2/3 cups dip
3 tsp. pink peppercorns, finely ground in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle
5 oz. fresh shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 c. crème fraîche or sour cream
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 T. Hellman's mayonnaise (no other will do, unless homemade)
Method for the Dip:
1. Grind the peppercorns in a spice grinder, coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, until fine. Shave the parmigiano reggiano cheese with a vegetable peeler, unless you can find it already shaved.
2. Add the ground peppercorns and shaved parmigiano reggiano to a food processor fitted with the sharp chopping blade. Set the processor to "on" and process until the peppercorns and cheese are the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.
3. Add the crème fraîche or sour cream, kosher salt and mayonnaise to the food processor. Pulse gently until the dip is smooth, about 30-40 times.
4. Pour the dip into a medium bowl, scrape the excess from the processor bowl with a rubber spatula. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. Note: the dip will separate a little after it sets and the cheese settles to the bottom. Make sure to always mix it up again before serving.
I thank the adorable little fries shop in New York called Pommes Frites for this dip idea. I tasted one of their dips and embellished and improved it. This is one of my favorite dips ever. Chips, vegetables, bread...straight off the spoon. It's delicious.
"Artichokes Braised with Lemon, Wine and Aromatics"
Works for 2 or 4 artichokes
2 or 4 whole large fresh artichokes
2 c. water
1 c. dry white wine
1 clove garlic, peeled and quartered
2 fresh green bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 T. extra virgin olive oil per artichoke
1. First you will need to trim and prepare the artichokes. Fill a large bowl with cold water, slice one lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl of water. Snap off all the tough outer leaves of the artichoke, slice off the top about 3/4" down from the tips and use kitchen shears to trim all the pointed edges of the leaves. Rub half the lemon everywhere you make cuts or trim, so the leaves don't turn brown too quickly. Cut off the stem at the very base of the artichoke but keep it, peeling all sides and the bottom. Drop the artichoke and stem into the bowl of cold water. Repeat for each artichoke. Let the artichokes sit in the bowl while you prepare the braising ingredients.
2. Use a large pot that will fit all of your artichokes easily, without crowding and so they'll sit upright. Add the water, the white wine, the second lemon sliced, garlic, fresh bay leaves and thyme to the pot. Bring the pot to a steady simmer.
3. When the broth is simmering, add the artichokes by placing them base down in the pot. Notice that as the artichokes cook, you will be braising and steaming them at the same time. It is normal for the artichoke to go from a bright and vibrant green to a muted, army-green hue as it cooks. Drizzle 1 T. extra virgin olive oil inside the leaves of each artichoke.
4. Bring the water to a strong simmer but below boiling and cover the pot with a lid that fits tightly. Braise the artichokes about 45-50 minutes. The artichokes are done when you can use a fork to easily pull down on one of the outer leaves and it comes loose. Keep in mind the inner leaves will be much more tender. Test the outer leaf in this manner and pull it out of the water. Let it cool and then test by scraping the flesh of the leaf with your teeth. The flesh should be soft and slightly creamy but not mushy nor fibrous.
5. When done, remove the artichokes with a pair of tongs and let drain before plating. In this case, serve with a bowl of the pink peppercorn dipping sauce.
I tend to save the braising liquid when I make artichokes, the broth is so delicious I can never bear to throw it out. With this dish I reserved the liquid and will feature it in another post later on this week.
This blog entry on Simply Recipes is great at showing you how to eat artichokes, if you've never had one before. (The author explains the typical American preparation I mentioned earlier.) I really hope you try my recipes either together or separately. Let me know what you think!