Monday, May 6, 2013

Marinated Artichoke Hearts

I am not known to be the world's best gardener.  But I am giving it my all and for the past couple of years have had a pretty successful herb and vegetable garden.  Of course, most of the credit must go to the garden-perfect Southern California sunshine and temperatures.  And automatic sprinklers.  Seriously, whoever invented those things is my hero.  I always set out with the best of intentions when I plant flowers, herbs and veggies, but if I plant them anywhere out of the reach of the sprinklers I might as well just kiss them goodbye.

I will forget to water.  I just will.  And I know it.  Sigh....
But in a place where the artichoke plants are a perennial (come back year after year, for you non-garden types), even I can feel like an accomplished gardener.  This year I had four plants that stuck around from last spring with their big, fern-like silvery green leaves.  The plants are actually quite pretty and I would totally put them in my front yard landscape.  If you're wondering, this variety is called Purple of Romagna and the flowers (aka the part that you eat) is a pretty purple color and the petals are a bit spikier than the more familiar globe artichokes.  I grew them from seed.  Yup, I did that.  And, boy, have they produced for me this spring.

My husband loves those marinated artichoke hearts that come on antipasto plates.  So I have been trying to duplicate their flavor at home for a couple of years.  Unsuccessfully.  He always eats them, mind you, but they're never quite right.  The bumper crop of baby artichokes I had inspired me to give it one more try.  And after steaming, grilling and pan roasting what seemed like a mountain of artichokes, I needed something different. 
Paydirt!  I have found the magical balance between vinegar, spice, oil, and herbs to make my hubby go "Mmmmmmmm".  And boy, would I have been bummed had it not been right.  Those little chokes need quite a bit of prep work to get them into fighting shape, ahem, ready for their dunk in the marinade.  But it was all worth it for the look of satisfaction on my husband's face as he stabbed the first one straight from the jar.

If you can still find artichokes in your market, especially small ones, I beesech you to try these just once.  They're so much better than the ones in that olive bar at your grocery store.
Marinated Artichoke Hearts
Makes 3 pint jars.  Adapted from The Art of Preserving, by Rick Field, Lisa Atwood and Rebecca Courchesne.
For the printable recipe, click here.

The difficulty here is not in the recipe itself, but in the prep work.  But if you can stand the few (or 20) minutes it may take you to remove the outer leaves and chokes from the artichokes, you'll be well rewarded.  One of the great things about a recipe like this is that you can adapt the recipe to your liking.  Add more garlic, take away the lemon peel, or use the herbs that you have in your kitchen.  For us, this combination hits the sweet spot.  The recipe makes three jars of artichoke hearts, one to eat as soon as it's ready and the other two to store in the back of the fridge to pull out for unexpected company or to give to friends (who will thank you profusely!).

5 lbs baby or smallish artichokes
juice of 2 lemons, plus 6 tbs
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tbs plus 1 tsp kosher or sea salt
zest of two lemons, removed in strips with a vegetable peeler or cocktail zester
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
red pepper flakes (1 pinch per jar)
2  1/2 tbs chopped fresh herbs (I used 1 tbs each chopped parsley and basil and 1 tsp each chopped chives and sage)
1 tsp black peppercorns
6 tbs olive oil

You will need 3 hot, sterilized pint jars and their lids at the ready.  You can accomplish this by either washing the jars and then heating them in a hot water bath for at least 10 minutes, or running them through the sterilize cycle on your dishwasher right before use.

Fill a large bowl halfway with water and stir in the juice of 2 lemons.  Working quickly with 1 artichoke at a time, begin peeling off the tougher outer layers of leaves until you get to the pale, tender inner leaves.  Cut about 1/2 inch off the top of the artichoke, cut off any remaining dark leaves from the base,  then cut the artichoke into quarters lengthwise.  Immediately immerse the artichokes in the lemon water to prevent browning.  Repeat with the remaining artichokes.

Remove the artichokes with a slotted spoon and place them in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add in 1/4 cup of the lemon water from the bowl.  Cover and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes.  Remove the artichokes from the pot and return them to the lemon water.  Stir in a handful of ice cubes to stop the artichokes from cooking further.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the 6 tbs lemon juice, vinegars, and salt.  Add 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil.  Stir to dissolve the salt.

Using your prepared jars, evenly divide the lemon zest strips, garlic, peppercorns and herbs amongst the three jars.  Tightly pack the cooled artichoke hearts into the jars to within 1 inch of the rim.  Ladle the hot bring into the jars, leaving about 3/4 inch of headspace at the top.  Add 2 tbs olive oil to each jar.  This should bring the headspace to 1/4-1/2 inch.  Wipe the rims and seal the jars tightly.

Leave the jars undisturbed on the counter for 24 hours, then refrigerate.  Shake the jars daily to distribute the seasonings for 1 week, at which time the artichokes will be ready to eat.  Keep the jars refrigerated.  They will keep for up to another 2 weeks.

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