First, let me say that teaching your children how to use a knife by having them cut artichokes is probably not the best idea. Even for someone with grownup sized hands, the tough leaves and slipperiness of the plant can be tricky. With that in mind, when my five-year-old daughter asked to help me cook these Marinated Baby Artichokes, my first instinct was to have her just peel off the outer leaves and I would take over and do all the cutting.
This did not exactly fly with my daughter’s chef ambitions, and she begged me to let her do the prep-work herself, including cutting the artichokes. My first instinct was to tell her no. I mean, she’s only five, and to get through the choke’s sturdy skin takes a sharper blade than the dull kid’s knives she was used to. But after I thought about it, I remembered that she already does tasks that take a reasonably high level of coordination, and that I was already pretty independent in the kitchen around her age. Eventually, I relented. If she was going to insist on using a real knife, I was going to teach her how to do it right.
It took a few different knives to find one that fit her hand properly, but ultimately we settled on a small paring knife. I’m happy to report that under my close supervision, The Bug (or Bubs, or Bubby as she is known around the house) peeled and cut almost all of the three pounds of baby artichokes the recipe calls for. All ten fingers are still intact (would I really be blogging about this if they weren’t?) and we had a great time just being together in the kitchen. Not to mention, at the end of all this we had enough tender, delicious, marinated baby artichokes to feed our guests and have some leftover for later.
Marinated Baby Artichokes
Adapted from David Tanis: The Heart of an Artichoke
This is one of my staple go-to spring appetizers. I usually serve them with fresh veggies on a crudité plate, or on a mezze plate with marinated olives, Israeli feta, and flat breads. This also makes a refreshing first course just on its own.
Serves 12 appetizer portions
3 pounds baby artichokes, about 2 dozen
Zest of one lemon
3 lemons—two for the lemon-water bath, and one for zest and flavor
Juice of 1 large lemon or two small, plus 1 for finishing
½ cup olive oil
6 ounces white wine – and a little for the chef
3 -4 sprigs of thyme
4 small garlic cloves, chopped
Good pinch of red pepper flakes
Laurel leaves (optional)
Chopped parsley (bunch)
Note: Though I do grow artichokes in my garden, I didn’t have 3 pounds of them for this recipe. Our Santa Barbara farmers market has a wonderful seller who specializes in asparagus, regular sized artichokes, and these delightful purple morsels. She is usually toward lower State at the Tuesday afternoon market.
To prepare the baby artichokes, peel the stem ends with a paring knife, remove a few outer leaves to reveal the pale green centers, and cut off the tops (I found that the red artichokes are a little tougher, so if you use them, you might need to remove a few more of the outer layers).
Cut the prepared artichokes in half and place them in a bowl of cool water with the juice of 2 lemons. The acidity of the lemon in the water will keep the ends from turning black, and you can store the artichokes in this bath at room temperature while you prep the other parts of your meal. You can also do this a day before you plan to serve, keeping the bowl in your fridge overnight.
To cook the chokes, heat the Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a large skillet (not cast iron). Drain the artichokes from their lemony water bath. Add them to the pan and season well with salt and pepper. Then, add the wine, thyme and fresh laurel (if using). Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the artichokes are tender when you test them with a fork about 10 – 20 minutes.
Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, stir and cook for a minute. Off the heat, stir in the lemon zest and chopped parsley. Transfer the artichokes to a low, wide serving dish and let cool to room temp.
When the artichokes are cool, taste for salt and lemon juice. Add juice from your third lemon if necessary. Because fresh baby artichokes can be sweet, they need salt and acidity to balance the flavor. Cover and leave at room temp for up to several hours until ready to serve.
Tools for Kids: If you want to get your kids used to the idea of grownup flatware, Trebimbi makes an adorable little set that is metal, but has fun plastic handles. My parents picked them up for us on their last Europe trip, but like everything else, you can find them on Amazon.
Photo, courtesy of Amazon.com