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A second shot

I’ve got nothing against fall. Really, it’s just fine. It’s plums and pumpkins and leaves changing color and apple cider and all that. The problem is that it paves the way for winter. The way I see it, fall is sort of like the butler in an English novel, and winter is the shadowy, black-clad, slightly deranged visitor at the gate. Fall, being very polite and professional, escorts Winter into the parlor to have a seat. Then, while Fall is upstairs, alerting his master to the arrival of the visitor, Winter wreaks havoc on the manor, downing an entire decanter of brandy, startling the maid, and stealing the sterling tea service from the sideboard in the dining room. Is this making any sense? Maybe not. Sometimes I read too much P.G. Wodehouse.

I guess what I wanted to say is this: it is October, and it is raining. I am wearing a scarf and wool socks. I don’t think there is any going back now. It is solidly fall, which is okay. But soon, it will be winter. For a while, I was hoping that this photograph of some artichokes, if clutched tightly enough to my chest, might ward off the chill in the air, but I’m starting to have my doubts. It does make me happy, though, in an October kind of way.

I know I have mentioned this before, but I love artichokes. They may be a little tricky to prepare, what with their thorns and furry chokes, but to those who persevere, they are particularly generous, because they bear two crops a year. They love cool weather, so they thrive in both the spring and early fall, producing fat flower buds, the part that we eat. So if you, like me, didn’t quite get your fill last spring, you get a second shot at it now, before you are sentenced to several months of cabbage and potatoes. Not that I equate cabbage and potatoes with jail time, but you know what I mean.

I found the specimens you see above at Whole Foods on Friday morning, when I went out in search of some breakfast. I had woken up to find that we had nothing in the house, so I got in the car. Of course, going to the grocery store on an empty stomach is never a good idea, but I had no choice, and I think I did alright. I came home with a box of cereal (breakfast), one bag of baby artichokes (cute, in season), one box of Hint ‘O Mint Newman-Os (RIP, Paul Newman), and one sweet potato (no clue). I didn’t have any plans past a bowl of cereal, but a couple of weeks prior, our friend Carla had invited us to dinner, and one of the dishes she made, I remembered, was baby artichokes braised with garlic and thyme.

Carla has been leading me to lots of great recipes lately, so I probably shouldn’t say this out loud, but on first glance, they looked to me like those marinated artichokes you sometimes find in the deli section of the grocery store, with the olives and pepperoncini. But once in the mouth, they were much more delicate than that, sweeter and more mellow, fragrant with grassy olive oil and earthy from all the garlic. They were fantastic. Carla had found the recipe in Chez Panisse Vegetables, she told me, and it called for only a few ingredients, not counting water and salt. When they were ready, she put them, still warm, in a ceramic bowl on the kitchen counter, and while we stood around and cooked, we plucked them up with our fingers. I ate three, which, since there were not a lot of them, was a little impolite, but Carla, being infinitely more polite, didn’t say anything.

And I needed even more, of course. So when I brought home those baby artichokes last Friday, I knew what had to be done.

There is a decent amount of prep work involved in cooking baby artichokes - or artichokes in general, really - but that should never stop anyone. I’m just letting you know. It takes a while to peel away all the tough leaves, so if you make this recipe - and I hope you do - be sure to think ahead about something to keep you occupied: a phone call, maybe, or that old album you’ve been meaning to dig out, or that Maira Kalman interview you’ve had bookmarked forever. It’s worth the trouble. Basically, you trim the stems, chop off the top, and then peel away the outer leaves until you reach the tender yellow inner ones. Then you dump the artichokes, thus groomed, in a skillet with some water, sliced garlic, fresh thyme sprigs, and a good dose of oil. They simmer gently for a while, until they are tender to the tooth, and then you serve them just like that, simple and perfect, with some curls of Parmesan on top and some warm bread alongside. I can’t think of a better, more savory first course for fall. Or, if you want to, you could serve them as part of a larger appetizer spread, with salami and the like. Either way.

Friday’s batch disappeared quickly, so I made another today, and for a few minutes, while the scent of garlic and artichokes wafted through the house, the rain outside didn’t feel quite so ominous. I ate a few of them for lunch, with some leftover baguette, an apple, and some cheddar cheese. And three Hint ‘O Mint Newman-Os. I highly recommend it all.

Braised Baby Artichokes with Garlic, Thyme, and Parmesan
Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables, by Alice Waters

The original version of this recipe calls for 20 very small artichokes. Alice Waters isn’t very specific about it, but I assume she means the ones that are roughly the size of large strawberries. The artichokes I used, however, weren’t quite that petite: before I began trimming them, they were about the size of tennis balls. If you can find smaller ones, go for it. But if yours are more like mine – which I am calling “small” here, as opposed to “very small” – you can use them too. Just use fewer of them, that’s all.

Serve these as a first course or hors d’oeuvre, with some warm bread for sopping up the pan juices. With a bowl of olives, some salami, and some cheese, and you’ve got a nice spread.

1 lemon, halved
About 20 very small artichokes, or 10 small artichokes (see headnote)
5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup water
4 sprigs thyme
Parmesan cheese

Fill a medium-sized bowl with cool water, and squeeze 1 half of the lemon into the water.

Cut off all but about half an inch of the artichoke stems, and trim off the tops to remove any thorns. Break and peel off the outer layers of leaves until the tender, yellowish inner leaves show. (When in doubt, keep peeling: you don’t want to wind up with a mouthful of tough leaves.) If you want, pare the ragged edges of the base where the outer leaves were torn off. If your artichokes are only small – as opposed to very small – cut them in half from stem to tip. If there is a choke inside, use a demitasse spoon (or something similar) to scoop it out. As you finish working with them, drop the prepared artichokes into the bowl of lemon water.

In a shallow, nonreactive pan – I used a 10-inch skillet – combine the artichokes, garlic, olive oil, water, and thyme. Season lightly with salt, cover, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, until the artichokes begin to soften, shaking the pan occasionally. Remove the lid, raise the heat slightly, and cook for a few minutes more, shaking the pan occasionally, until the artichokes are soft and tender. Salt again, and squeeze the other half of the lemon into the pan.

Serve the artichokes warm, with some of their liquid and with curls of Parmesan on top.

Serves 4.


Blogger Emily said...

What a lovely photograph of those little artichaux! :)

6:29 PM, October 06, 2008  
Blogger Judy said...

OMG Molly what terrific timing. I have been blanching mine with lemon slices and then roasting them with the lemon and a little olive oil. They are good but missing something. I am definitely trying this recipe.

7:04 PM, October 06, 2008  
Anonymous Hilary said...

Artichokes are one of the foods I have a bizarre fear of cooking. You've inspired me to get over that fear!

7:10 PM, October 06, 2008  
Blogger Lynn said...

I love artichokes but have never had the desire to prepare fresh ones...I will have to just bite the bullet and buy and prepare some! Thanks for the recipe..will try this out this weekend!

7:14 PM, October 06, 2008  
Anonymous Jane said...

I read P.G. Wodehouse, too! I don't think there can ever be too much. He's my favorite author. Jeeves would never admit a deranged visitor, though - except Aunt Agatha. Hardy har. Jeeves is more of a springtime butler, I think. Artichokes scare me, but I will try your recipe. Oh, and one last Wodehouse note - I find he is at his best reading when one is blue over something, like the weather, so read on. Pip pip! (I'm such a nerd.)

7:34 PM, October 06, 2008  
Anonymous Pirouette said...

Absolutely beautiful story. I loved your characterization of the fall: "The way I see it, fall is sort of like the butler in an English novel, and winter is the shadowy, black-clad, slightly deranged visitor at the gate. Fall, being very polite and professional, escorts Winter into the parlor to have a seat. Then, while Fall is upstairs, alerting his master to the arrival of the visitor, Winter wreaks havoc on the manor, downing an entire decanter of brandy, startling the maid, and stealing the sterling tea service from the sideboard in the dining room." Made perfect sense to me -- your post sounded like you were a character in Wuthering Heights. Bravo!

8:44 PM, October 06, 2008  
Blogger Lael said...

I don't think I have ever filled up on artichokes too much in the spring that I'm not wanting them again in the fall. The only way I've ever eaten fresh ones is by snipping the tips of the leaves and cooking them whole in a big pot, then pulling off leaf by leaf to be dipped into garlic butter. This sounds more intensive, but like a lovely alternative. I'll have to give it a shot. Thanks, Molly.

8:56 PM, October 06, 2008  
Anonymous Rachel said...

I just had my last artichoke for dinner tonight...and all the ones that I can find are quite large anyway - but I got a great deal on them last time, so if I can manage that again, I'll try it with large ones! Artichokes are definitely one of my favourites, so this sounds amazing.

sidenote: I am giddy and also slightly sad for you (but more giddy) that I, living up here in Canada, was feeling terribly hot this afternoon...I hope it lasts - although, being born here, I readily embrace winter; it lasts too long here for me to hate it. And it's quite pretty, don't you think?

9:22 PM, October 06, 2008  
Blogger The Fabulous One said...

I am not an artichoke person, but I surely know how you feel about autumn. I'm an October baby so I'm excited and a little sad to see the summer produce go. My Friday night was spent at my friend's house building a fire and making pasta e fagioli and eating tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and balsamic. I stared at that plate of tomatoes like it was the last of the crop ever, and I, too, ate quite a bit more than was probably polite. ;P

Well, you know what all this means...

Banana bread season ;P

10:26 PM, October 06, 2008  
Blogger kickpleat said...

i haven't prepared artichokes in years. i think it's time for a refresher and this recipe sounds wonderful.

10:58 PM, October 06, 2008  
Anonymous sonja said...

I didn't know artichokes are in season twice a year, very interesting fact! I always shy away from cooking them because of all the peeling, although I actually love eating them. But this recipe is certainly very inspiring - I think I should just give it a try!

11:10 PM, October 06, 2008  
OpenID racheleats said...

Rome is still some way off 'Heavy Weather' but the markets are bursting with artichokes and even better my trusty fruttivendolo armed with a sharp knife and half a lemon does all the hard work for me.
Your blog is a joy to read.

11:59 PM, October 06, 2008  
Blogger Kitt said...

Oh yum! Can't get the baby ones here, alas. But when I go to California I always look for them and bring some home if I can. I usually just sautee them in butter, but I'll try your recipe next time!

12:05 AM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Victoria said...

This weekend when I was visiting my cookbooks in the country since the bulk of them live there, I eyed my row of Chez Panisse cookbooks and picked up the vegetable one since I know you say it's one of your favorites. I opened it and found the hand of the paper to be lovely, and the recipes looked so enticing, I thought "I need to get to know this book bette - and now this. I guess it's an omen. In the meantime, stay cozy. Maybe you should make some of Marcella's minestrone. Then the cold weather won't seem so bad.

12:27 AM, October 07, 2008  
Anonymous Yasmin (Almond & The Hazelnut) said...

I too love your personification of winter and fall. Beautifully written! Unfortunately, within a month of falling in love with artichokes I was decidedly out of love the next. It was a brief romance poisoned, quite literally, by a food bug caught the day before. Shame. But you've inspired me to get out there once again... oh how food rocks the soul!

2:29 AM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger lobstersquad said...

what do you mean, too much P.G.Wodehouse? there´s no such thing as too much of a wonderfull thing, he´s probably the only thing to get you through an English winter/autum/summer, who cares, they have the same lousy weather all the time.

3:06 AM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Jill of All Trades said...

Excuse me if I drool all over this comment. I LOVE artichokes too and will definitely try the recipe. I have NEVER tried to cook fresh but will branch out. Thanks

4:39 AM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Sylvie said...

I've never yet braved artichokes. I'm always scared that I don't remove enough of the 'nasty' stuff and make my guests choke, but these just look so pretty that I might have to pluck up all my courage!

6:32 AM, October 07, 2008  
OpenID conortje said...

This is my first trip here and I have to say I loved it from the first paragraph I read...

6:43 AM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger maggie said...

I've always been afraid of not trimming enough and getting a mouthful of thorns/choke etc...but these sound so nice...I never knew there was a fall crop!

6:49 AM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Adrienne said...

As much as I love to EAT artichokes, I've never actually COOKED artichokes. Perhaps I'll have to give it a try; you make it sound like not such a big deal. Loved this post :)

7:01 AM, October 07, 2008  
Anonymous lisa said...

I never seem to find baby artichokes here in Austin, but we don't really get to enjoy (or not enjoy) fall either. These do look delicious so hopefully small artichokes find there way here this year.

7:26 AM, October 07, 2008  
Anonymous EB said...

There really isn't anything that lots of garlic and a few artichokes can't help. I honestly believe that.

7:28 AM, October 07, 2008  
Anonymous Hillary said...

I didn't know I liked artichokes until I had them at a tapas restaurant. They were sour in a good way and delicate with depth. Thanks for this recipe!

7:53 AM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Joanna said...

I've never prepared baby artichokes before, but I love the larger ones so I can only imagine what these taste like! Also I think your description of fall is spot on, and I've found myself trying to say the same thing recently with less beautiful words. I do enjoy October, really I do, but it fills me with this sinking feeling of dread as I think of what comes next...

8:21 AM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Kasey said...

I myself am preparing for winter root vegetables. There is a certain something about being curled up at home over a warm bowl of heartiness. Thanks for the artichoke recipe

9:36 AM, October 07, 2008  
Anonymous Judy gal said...

Trader Joe's sells 'baby artichokes' and I'm always thrilled to find them available. I prep them, steam them and then eat them (with great vigor) by picking one up and dipping the bottom in Trader Joe's Parmesan Ranch dressing (yummm). When I serve them to others, it's exciting to see how they decide to eat them -- of course, the true way is to just bite off the bottom (the heart).. lots of folks have started to eat the top -- which isn't the way to go! Thanks for your recipe and photos -- great! I love your blog!

10:31 AM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Cheryl A said...

Thank-you! I've tried artichokes a couple of times this year, with limited success. You've inspired me to try again - if they are still at the market on the weekend.

11:13 AM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Rosiecat said...

I nominate this post for Best Orangette Post of 2008. Beautiful!

Also, is it inappropriate that I am left thinking more about cookies than artichokes? I love a minty chocolate sandwich cookie...mmm...

11:51 AM, October 07, 2008  
OpenID Catie said...

Oh, your bit about about fall is EXACTLY how I feel about it.

And I love artichokes, too.

12:15 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Anne Zimmerman said...

Isn't it lovely to eat at home and cobble a lunch together out of a few simple things? I just ate a yellow pepper stuffed with couscous and black beans and several handfuls of baby tomatoes. It is a lunch that is not quite summer, almost fall, just like the weather

12:23 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Tina said...

Lovely photos! I love artichokes! :)

12:39 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Hey, so, I'd been thinking of sending you an email for a while (like a couple of years?), but the PG Wodehouse reference pushed me over the edge. I adore your website, and I'm pretty sure I know your husband. He and I went to Oberlin together, and I'm pretty sure we cooked and ate in neighboring co-ops-he in Harkness and me in Fairchild. Also, I have at least ten Jeeves books, and I keep on getting more. I guess the point is that I love your blog, and I've loved following the adventures you and Brandon have had.


1:39 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger shari said...

beautiful photos molly. artichokes! yum.

2:34 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger jora said...

This sounds like perfetly lovely way to eat baby artichokes! And I noticed just the other day that Trader Joe's still has the containers of them..... on my "must make" list now. :)

3:43 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Morello said...

I too love P.G. Wodehouse and artichokes!! its like you peaked inside my brain! This sounds amazing, and you really captured the feeling of fall with your Wodehouse-esque (Wodehousian?) description. Thanks for this inspiration!

3:50 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Patricia said...

I too am fearful of winter coming, living in Maine it has all sorts of ramifications...now if I just had some articokes around I might well feel better...although beware...do NOT taste your fingers after you have handled artichokes...they will taste 'ORRIBLE...they are SO bitter before you cook them and the flavour lingers on your hands...I thought it might be a way to stop me biting my nails by rubbing them on uncooked artichokes. One can only hope! Patricia

5:54 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Delane said...

Fall? I live in Florida and I would give anything to be able to put on a pair of wool socks and build a fire in a fireplace. I guess it is time to move back to a more moderate climate. To be honest, artichokes have always alluded me. Purposfully, I have stayed away from them. Probably, a time issue, although I love to cook. I suppose it is time to take on the challenge and give the artichoke the opportunity to prove itself. I will visit my local green market and give it a whirl.

8:17 PM, October 07, 2008  
Anonymous Camille said...

I confess that I read this blog rather obsessively (and that my Sunday evening menu last weekend consisted of purely Orangette recipes: tomatoes filled with rice for dinner and gateau au chocolat fondant de nathalie, both delicious), and it's starting to show, because as I sat here on my boyfriend's couch (across the room from him) reading your latest entry, I let out a quiet and enticed "ooooh" and he looked up from where he was paying bills at the table and asked "Are you reading Orangette?" Clearly a testament to your delicious recipes and engaging writing (and perhaps my frequent reading). Keep up the great work!

8:27 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Bittersweet said...

Lovely post, m'dear, though having lived without fall for too long, I can't imagine have any trepidation about her arrival.
I once read an article where fall was described as Sophia Loren, all curves and flashy colors and great beauty, while winter was Audrey Hepburn. Beautiful, pristine, sure and collected. Maybe it will help to ease the transition if you think of her in a that way. (And yes, since reading that article, all seasons have become feminine for me, strangely enough).

What I wouldn't give for a fireplace right now.

5:38 AM, October 08, 2008  
Blogger DrB said...

As much as I love artichokes, I do tend to get really lazy with prepping them. I'm sure I don't do it right, so it's more of a guilty pleasure for me--something I tend to make when I know it will be just me for dinner so I don't have to do all the prep work, if you know what I mean. I usually trim the prickly tips, wash and steam them whole with some garlic and spices. This little recipe, though, doesn't sound so daunting. Maybe it's time to make some changes?

6:53 AM, October 08, 2008  
Blogger Sarah McColl said...

this made me guffaw, right out loud at my desk: "The way I see it, fall is sort of like the butler in an English novel, and winter is the shadowy, black-clad, slightly deranged visitor at the gate." oh, molly, i love you. and now i want to go read my first pj wodehouse novel!

10:12 AM, October 08, 2008  
Anonymous glutenfreeforgood said...

Oh, thank you! I've been getting baby artichokes in my CSA basket recently and other than steaming them, I wasn't sure what to do. This recipe looks wonderful!

4:26 PM, October 08, 2008  
Anonymous Dana McCauley said...

I find fall bittersweet, too. Thank goodness the food is so good at this time of year. Otherwise, it would be an unbearable season of foreboding.

4:52 PM, October 08, 2008  
Anonymous jules said...

love the story molly and very excited that our seasons in the southern and northern hemipshere are colliding for once as I just picked up a heap of artichokes for next to nothing. now I know what to do with them thanks.

6:00 PM, October 08, 2008  
Blogger amisha said...

that photograph... just so so beautiful, molly.
as is your description of fall, which made me laugh out loud, and then feel a little nervous about winter. today in new york the temperature shot back up to 75, out of the blue, so i'm hoping that the slightly deranged winter will keep its distance for awhile.

3:12 PM, October 09, 2008  
Blogger flannery_therese said...

Oh, you've made me ache for home, especially in this season! And I wish we had artichokes here so I could have some, too.

1:53 PM, October 10, 2008  
Anonymous Dave said...

It's time for you and Brandon to come to Arizona. We're just coming out of our caves now, blinking in the bright light now that the searing heat of summer s gone.

8:56 AM, October 11, 2008  
Blogger sew nancy said...

I am very intrigues. The way you are describing this really makes me want to try it out.
If I do like this I may just be planting them in my front yard. Yes, our garden takes up the whole front of the house we bought this year.

6:31 PM, October 11, 2008  
Blogger Shilpa said...

Lovely post!.
I saw the picture and thought you were making a statement of changing seasons or teasing us because I thought 'chokes were only a spring seasonal thing. But wow after reading the recipe and imagining the last bite, sopping up the pan juices with that piece of baguette, I like your version of October best!

10:13 PM, October 11, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two thoughts:
Without winter there would be an awful lot more garden/farm pests. Let's be grateful they freeze...

Perhaps in these uncertain times having nothing to eat in the house isn't the wisest of strategies. Perhaps some food storage is called for?

5:56 PM, October 12, 2008  
Anonymous Jen said...

What did you do with the orphaned sweet potato?

9:31 PM, October 12, 2008  
Blogger Susan Macaluso said...

Molly, I always love what you make. I wanted to let your readers know about my giveaway!...

6:26 AM, October 13, 2008  
Anonymous Helen said...

P.G Wodehouse is one of my all time favourite authors. I loved the TV series of Jeeves and Wooster too - have you ever seen it? With Stephen Fry, it's wonderful.

Also, I actually love preparing globe artichokes, I love it when they are young and you cut them open and they are tinged with purple.

7:50 AM, October 13, 2008  
Blogger A Day That Is Dessert said...

I just ran across your blog via sfgirlbybay - don't know how I've missed it up until now - another Seattle blogger! Beautiful post and site.


8:53 AM, October 13, 2008  
Anonymous Natalie said...

I absolutely love this column, but Molly, I wish you could experience autumn on the East Coast! I live in Virginia and fall is my favorite season. The weather is crisp and dry and glorious here. I just got back from a wedding in upstate New York and it was much the same. We reveled in the local apple harvest and a joyous area "pumpkinfest." If you live out East, this season is something to look forward to eagerly, not dread!

2:39 PM, October 13, 2008  
Anonymous catering equipment said...

Looks amazing def something to try!

2:29 AM, October 20, 2008  
Blogger April Horsman said...

Oh my soul that looks perfectly delicious!

Adding to my to-try list :)

Thanks! Great duck story haha.


6:17 PM, October 21, 2008  
Blogger Nikki said...

I've been dreaming about this recipe all day, so I picked up some baby artichokes at trader joes. It smelled wonderful while it simmered on the stove, I couldn't wait! But they turned out bitter, I couldn't even swallow them! Do you think it was the artichokes?? I'm trying another batch next week!

7:53 PM, October 21, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

How weird, Nikki! I'm so sorry about that! I wonder if you maybe didn't cook them long enough? Were they good and tender when you tasted them? Raw artichokes can taste very bitter. That's the only thing I can think of...

7:58 PM, October 21, 2008  
Anonymous Stephanie said...

I have to admit, I am such a huge fan of the process of eating artichokes, that I cannot stomach a recipe that tells you to get rid of the outer leaves! I snip off the prickles, steam them whole, and we dip them in garlic butter or dill dip. My kids love them!

I may try your method as a sauce on already made artichokes...

Am I really missing something?

11:31 AM, December 16, 2008  

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