Friday, March 7, 2008
Barcelona really feels like spring lately. Even though most of the winter here is warmer than a Canadian May, there is a marked difference between the seasons. The first signs of change are in the light and the air and the sound of the birds. And the artichokes.
Artichokes originated in the Mediterranean, of course, and were brought by Spanish settlers to America, where they've firmly taken hold. Why, even Marilyn Monroe was once crowned Artichoke Queen by Castroville, California. Perhaps not her greatest claim to fame.
For the past couple of weeks, artichokes have been available in Barcelona markets for next to nothing. Normally, I'm a little loath to take the plunge with artichokes because of all the trimming and fussing that's involved, but Yukiko set me straight. Because these artichokes are young and beautifully tender, trimming is easier and you don't need to worry about the choke (the thistly interior).
This week, on Yukiko's recommendation, I bought a few. Then I incorporated them into a Spanish-style rice. Here's more or less how to recreate it:
3-4 young artichokes
1/2 pound of mushrooms, quartered
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, slivered
6 tbsp olive oil
2 cups Spanish short grain rice
small handful of chopped fresh thyme, parsley or oregano (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp sweet paprika
4+ cups chicken or pork stock (I confess I used an oxo cube and didn't overly regret it; veggies, feel free to substitute a meatless stock)
salt and pepper to taste
Trim the base off the artichokes, remove the bottom 3-4 layers of tough leaves, and slice off the tops. Cut each artichoke into eight wedges and rub all over with the lemon to prevent browning, squeezing the juice into the artichokes as you go. (You can remove the choke by scraping it out, but I didn't bother.)
In a paella pan or large frying pan, sautee the onion and garlic in hot oil until golden (about 5 minutes). Add the artichokes and mushrooms and sautee for a further 3-5 minutes, browning the vegetables slightly. Season with salt and pepper and add the rice and herbs to the pan, combining well with the vegetables. Cover the mixture all at once with hot stock and leave to simmer, uncovered, for approximately 20 minutes until all the stock is absorbed. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you go. You may need to add more stock (feel free to use water) as the rice cooks if the stock is evaporating too quickly. Do not stir. Once all the stock is absorbed (the bottom should be lightly browned and just beginning to get crispy), turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves and let sit for a few minutes before serving.
Try it with a crisp white wine like a Spanish Rueda and a dish for discarding any tough artichoke bits that remain. I promise you'll feel the imminence of spring even though you may still be stuck in drifts of snow.