Artichokes

What was left of five artichokes the three of us had for dinner last night.

There were two things I remember eating in great quantity as a child (actually I’m sure there were many more than two) artichokes and corn on the cob. I think my artichoke record was four in one sitting and eight ears of corn. The corn was always homegrown and the ears weren’t usually quite as large as store-bought ones but still, I loved these two things. I have a feeling my four-year-old is going to give me a run for my money on the artichoke front soon. I certainly can’t put away four in one sitting anymore. And he ate one and a half artichokes last night and they were big.

For inexplicable reasons we haven’t eaten many artichokes for a few years but somehow this year the bug is back and I’m buying them at every turn. The ones pictured above are from a local farm (DeNoble Farm in Tillamook, OR) and are available at the Portland Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Growing up my mother boiled them and we dipped the leaves and much-anticipated heart in regular store-bought mayo and I loved them that way. Then I spent a lot of time in Italy and learned of the dozens of other ways of preparing them, all of which I loved as well. Most of those preparations–stuffed, grilled, roasted, in a ragout, in a frittata, etc.–are a bit more time-consuming so this spring I’ve mostly been doing it the good old American way.  I made them for my in-laws in Colorado 10 days ago and it turned out to be the first artichoke my father-in-law had ever had and he loved it.

For last night’s I used a bit of leftover aioli (with chives and thyme) and stretched that with the store-bought stuff and it was perfect.

I was much too excited to start eating to remember to take any photos of the original, beautiful bowl of five whole artichokes so all you get is the dregs that I promised I'd save for Ellis for dinner tonight.

So, if you want a low fuss summer meal, pick up a bunch of artichokes; get out big bowls for the leaves and thistle parts and a bowl of mayo, homemade or not and go to town.

P.S. I know it’s more common to steam artichokes but I’ve always just boiled them, water coming about half way up the artichokes (stem end down) for about 45 minutes to an hour (depending on size they might take longer). You want the stem and heart to be very tender when pierced with the tip of a knife or fork. When tender I hold them upside down by their stems to drain them well and then they are ready to eat. I’ve always assumed boiling was faster than steaming and I always seem to be in a hurry but by all means steam them if you prefer.

Time Well Spent & Salade Nicoise

When I was growing up I often woke up to the smell of frying onions and bacon wafting up the stairs, and not in an American-breakfast-hash-sort-of-way but in a German-Zwiebelkuchen-sort-of-way. Zwiebelkuchen is kind of a cross between pizza and Quiche with lots of sautéed onions, bacon and cheese. It’s a great dish to feed lots of people, keeps well, etc. So my mother, always needing lots of food for our household, started early while she was also making breakfast.

Other days she’d have a lentil soup simmering away while we were heading off to school. So the idea of getting a jump-start on dinner in the morning has often been part of my routine too. These days I’ve been hard boiling eggs and cooking potatoes and green beans in the morning so that I can throw together a Nicoise Salad in a few minutes at night. The warmer weather has inspired more cold suppers and one of my favorites is a pasta dish with a raw tomato sauce (just blanch a few tomatoes, peel them and whizz in the blender with 2 handfuls of basil and 4 tbs of olive oil and salt) that you toss with room temperature pasta and diced fresh mozzarella. So I cook the pasta in the morning, toss it with olive oil and it’s ready for the sauce and hungry boys in no time.

There are infinite ways to split up the dinner cooking whether you start the night before while cleaning up dinner or the next morning. And I feel downright smug sometimes when I sneak steps in that way.

You can make a pesto or other sauce in the morning and cook the starch in the evening or cook some rice in the morning and toss with a vinaigrette and fresh veggies at night. You get the drift.

So, here’s the Nicoise recipe and a link to my August classes in which we’re cooking fabulous summer fare like this.

Nicoise KD
My version of a Salade Nicoise, with a creamy dressing–and not lettuce or olives. It’s a great idea to adapt to your taste and what you have on hand.

Salade Nicoise

I have adapted this classic composed French salad to my tastes over the years so this is not entirely authentic but very delicious and one of my favorite summer dinners. It’s a complete meal and beautiful to boot. As usual, please use the quantities as a guide. They are approximations and I vary them depending on how much of what I have on hand. There are very few hard and fast rules about this. And all of the components keep and are wonderful the next day so don’t worry about making too much.

3 waxy, firm fleshed potatoes (anything but russets), scrubbed and cut into large chunks or left whole if you have time (they cook more quickly if they’re cut up)

2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges or a handful of cherry tomatoes

½ lb of green beans, tipped

3-4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half

5 oz of canned Tuna (Oregon Albacore is wonderful, low in mercury, and available at many local farmers markets, at New Seasons, Pastaworks, etc.)

1 handful of cured olives

Cook the potatoes in salted water until tender but firm. Remove potatoes from water and let them cool. You can cook the green beans in the salted potato water so don’t throw it out. Add a bit more salt to the water and bring back to a boil and then toss in beans and cook for 4-5 minutes until tender but not mushy. The flavor of cooked green beans is much better (in my mind) when they are fully cooked and no longer “squeaky” but certainly not mushy.

Dressing

½ cup of either basic homemade mayo or aioli

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1-2 tablespoons capers, rinsed well and finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely minced onion or shallot

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 teaspoon or more, lemon juice or white or red wine vinegar.

a few teaspoons of warm water or milk/cream for thinning down the mayo

freshly ground, pepper

Mix all ingredients together well. Adjust seasoning to your taste with more lemon, salt, or pepper. If you don’t have any mayo on hand the traditional Nicoise calls for a vinaigrette so substitute the mayo in the above recipe for 1/3 cup of good olive oil and add more vinegar or lemon juice.

On a large platter arrange the potato chunks, green beans, eggs, tomatoes, olives, and tuna. Drizzle everything generously with the dressing and serve.