I am having my own personal artichoke fest this spring. I'm not sure what precipitated it. If I were to guess, I would say that it has something to do with the length and intensity of the winter. In a normal year I enjoy artichokes for a brief moment—from the point in early March when they typically show up in our stores until mid-April when the farmers' markets begin to fill with local asparagus, lettuces and spring onions. Artichokes don't grow in the Midwest, so they aren't to be found at the farmers' markets. Once local produce begins to come in, I seem to forget about them. But this year, even though it is the end of April, we are still quite thin on local produce. I don't remember a year when I have purchased so much California asparagus. I have even begun purchasing spring onions at the grocery store...something I have never done before. In any case, since I continue to see the artichokes whenever I am at the store...I have continued to bring them home. And they have been so good.
I mentioned in my last post that canned, jarred, frozen and otherwise preserved artichokes cannot hold a candle to the fresh. It is true that it is an effort to prepare trimmed artichokes...but it is a task that can be learned and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. It is truly worth learning how.
I did not grow up eating artichokes. The people I knew who did grow up eating them didn't eat them "turned". Instead, their artichokes were steamed or boiled in their entirety...and then served that way. Apparently you tear the leaves away at the table, dip the base of each leaf into a sauce and scrape this between your teeth to get at the meat. You then discard the leaf. When you are done with this tearing and teeth scraping, you will have a large pile of vegetable refuse at the table...but you finally get to eat the delicious heart (or the bottom)—which is where most of the edible portion resides. Not only does this process create a mess at the table...the whole activity strikes me as a bit unseemly. Furthermore, it is an odd activity for Americans who can almost never be induced to pick up their food with their hands or negotiate bones or pits of any kind while dining at a formal table (which is where whole artichokes most often show up). For the sake of the diner, it is more than worth learning how to trim the artichoke down to its delicious edible core...before it is cooked.
It is also more than worth it for the sake of the cook! Artichoke bottoms (as they are called) are amazingly versatile from the cook's perspective. They can be poached, stewed, braised, sautéed or roasted. They are a vegetable that neatly bridges the divide between late winter produce and early spring—taking well to the flavors and treatments of root vegetables as well as making a magnificent companion for the green vegetables of spring. Their season is lengthy and during that time they can go into pastas, grain pilafs, and risottos....as well as gratins, stews and vegetable ragouts. They are wonderful on a pizza or in a savory tart. They partner well with almost any animal protein you can imagine...fin fish and shellfish, as well as lamb, chicken, beef, and cured meats like ham. They are also delicious with eggs and cheese. And it is with these accompaniments that I present them today, in a frittata. Along with a simple salad of the beautiful lettuces that are just now showing up at the market and a warm crusty loaf of bread, this frittata makes a perfect light dinner...as well as a pretty great lunch of leftovers the next day.
Artichoke & Potato Frittata
8 or 9 oz. baby Yukon, Dutch or new potatoes, scrubbed
2 to 3 T. Olive oil
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 large spring onions, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced (about a half cup)
2 large artichokes, turned and rubbed with lemon
1 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto (~2 slices), cut cross-wise into 1/4-inch ribbons
1/2 T. picked fresh thyme
1 1/2 T. minced Italian flat leaf parsley
6 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
1 oz. grated Parmesan (1/3 cup)
Place the potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with salted water. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel the potatoes slice 1/4 to 1/3-inch thick. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, season to taste and set aside.
Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a medium-sized sauté pan. Add the onion, along with a pinch of salt, and sweat until softened...5 minutes or so. While the onions cook, halve the artichokes and cut the halves cross-wise into 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick slices. When the onions are soft, add the artichoke pieces to the pan along with a pinch of salt. If the pan seems dry, add a drizzle of oil. Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the artichokes begin to sizzle. Add a splash of water (or white wine, if you prefer) to the pan (liquid should just cover the bottom of the pan) and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and cover the pan. Cook the artichokes at a gentle simmer until they are tender to the tip of a knife...15 to 20 minutes (check the pan occasionally to make sure there is always a small amount of liquid present, supplementing with more water as necessary). When the artichokes are tender, uncover and increase the heat so that any remaining liquid will evaporate. When the artichokes are once again sizzling in the oil (i.e. all the liquid is gone), add the prosciutto and herbs. Continue to cook for another minute or so, stirring/tossing to make sure the prosciutto and herbs are evenly distributed among the artichokes. Taste and season. Set aside.
To prepare the frittata, preheat the broiler and place a 10-inch non-stick sauté pan (I prefer French steel pans) over moderately high heat. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat just to break them up. Season with salt and pepper and fold in the potatoes and artichokes. Add a half tablespoon or so of oil to the skillet. When the skillet is hot (the oil should be almost smoking), add the egg mixture. The eggs should begin to set immediately. Shake the pan back and forth with one hand, while with the other you alternately stir in the center and lift at the edges (in order to let the uncooked egg run underneath those that have coagulated) using a heat-proof rubber spatula. Continue cooking—stirring, shaking and lifting—until the eggs are mostly cooked but still a bit liquid-y (there will be large curds of coagulated egg and some liquid eggs). This should only take a couple of minutes. Reduce the heat to very low and allow the frittata to sit without stirring for a minute or so (sliding the pan back and forth a couple of times to make sure the frittata isn't sticking). This will give the frittata the opportunity to set up into a solid cake.
When the frittata is mostly set, place the skillet under the broiler and broil just until the surface is no longer moist—about 30 seconds. Sprinkle the cheese over the surface and broil again until the cheese melts—another 30 seconds. Slide the finished frittata onto a platter or cutting board and let sit for a minute or two. Cut into wedges and serve. The frittata may also be served at room temperature. Serves 4.