Monday, May 14, 2012

Homemade Artichoke Antipasto

Sometimes a certain type of cooking can really seem daunting, and then in a surprising turn, become achievable with little effort. This happened the other day when I had to do something with artichokes. You see, I've been buying up all these baby artichokes because I think they're beautiful and really fun to prep. There's also the fact that they are utterly delicious. In any event, I had way too many artichokes sitting in my fridge that needed to be used immediately. I've never really been one to make jars of preserves. I've had some forays into my own charcuterie and I do own many mason jars, but I've never made jam, or canned a tomato. So why not just jump in to the fray and make a jar of artichokes in a chili garlic brine? That's exactly what I did and while expecting disaster (given I went at this with no experience or recipe), the results were startlingly good. Here's what I did:

Take at least eight baby artichokes and clean them so that they still retain the stem and have not been split. I find that the baby artichokes are tender and young enough that the purple, thistle-like choke that one usually finds within an adult artichoke is really quite edible at this stage in the plant's development - so there's no need to remove it. Anyway, once you've prepped all your artichokes, get them into some gently simmering water with plenty of lemon wedges, a few bay leaves, a few pepper corns, a few sprigs of thyme, a few whole cloves of garlic and a really generous pinch of salt (the water should taste salty, but not too salty). Let the 'chokes simmer for about 15 minutes or so until they start to get tender. Then turn off the fire, and leave them in the poaching water until it is cool enough to touch. In the meantime, sterilize a mason jar and lid components in some boiling water or in the oven. This recipe is not meant to last the winter in a pantry - it will be refrigerated. I sterilize the jar just to buy a bit more time in the fridge. This is by no means a true preserving method! Once the artichokes are cool enough to handle, take them out of the liquid and carefully slice each of them lengthwise. Then into your jar should go the garlic cloves from the poaching water, along with some fresh bayleaves (don't re-use the ones in the poaching water -they'll have lost their flavour), some generous peelings of lemon skin (without the pith) and a few basil leaves. Pour a little bit of the poaching water into the jar, followed by a drizzle of olive oil and a teaspoon of chopped red chillies, and then carefully stuff  the artichokes about half way up the jar, then add more cooking water, more oil, some more basil leaves and more chillies, then more artichokes until you reach the top. Get the lid on, and very slowly turn it upside down. All the liquid that was on the bottom will flow to the top. Count to five and then slowly turn it back. This is a gentle way of distributing the different flavours through the jar. Then get it into the fridge. Give it 24 hours for all the flavours to mingle.

When I've bought preserved artichokes from the store they are either in salt water brine, or in pure oil. I didn't want mine swimming in oil, but I wanted some of the flavour from the oil, this is why I mixed up a combination of salty-lemony water with drizzles of oil. The water and vinegar do separate somewhat within the jar, but given the starchy, salty quality of the now-cooled poaching liquor, the oil seems to remain suspended in it rather than all pooling at the top. I have no idea of the science behind it.  It may sound odd, but the result was most excellent. 

Since I've made them, they have gone in salads, on pasta, and as a simple side dish.  They'd work on pizza in a pinch and would be most glorious on a humble piece of grilled bread. So far it's been in the fridge for a week and still looks and smells fine. My guess is that given the salt content of the water and the initial sterilization of the jar, I can leave them in the fridge for many, many weeks; like any other jar of olives or pickles.

Of course, this little recipe has got the juices flowing and I'm now looking at my mason jars as more than rustic tea light holders and as vessels to fill. Let the adventure begin!

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