My friend in California couldn’t have planned a better weekend for us culinarily . . . one great restaurant after another–each offering a bounty of local and artisanal ingredients which Californians (like Italians) accept as their birthright.
Without a doubt, the high point of my food trip was a visit to the San Francisco farmers’ market–breathtaking!! I was absolutely astounded at the breadth and quality of local produce and ingredients. The fruit, vegetables, poultry, meat and other products were inspiring and the whole experience was truly life-affirming. Spring produce was at its peak there (unlike in New York, where we’re still a few weeks away from local produce).
Today, in my Southampton market, the (California) artichokes looked great, so I decided to make a stew with white wine and fresh tomato–both flavors which accentuate the wonderful acidity of the artichoke. To anchor this spring stew, instead of the traditional lamb, I decided to use chicken thighs. Chicken and artichokes are a great combination–and chicken is lighter and quicker to cook than lamb stew.
The stew begins with cleaning and trimming the artichokes.
“Trimming” is a vast understatement when it comes to artichokes. Artichokes must be trimmed mercilessly(Marcella Hazan’s terminology), and in fact, are about eighty percent waste. What remains is a delicate, tart, lemony bottom with some stem attached (if you’re lucky enough to find stems still attached to your artichokes). It’s a flavor that really cannot be duplicated by any other vegetable.
As far as I’m concerned, a well-stocked kitchen only really requires three good knives–a paring knige, a serrated bread knife, and a large chef’s knife (8″). For cleaning artichokes, you will need all three of these knives.
Begin with the serrated knife, by slicing 2/3 off the top and discard the tops.
Next, with the paring knife, begin peeling the stem from the bottom up toward the bulb. When you come to the bulbous part, peel off some of those bottom leaves as well.
Peel until the surface looks more white than green. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re mistakenly trimming away the prettiest brightest green parts–they’re fibrous and inedible.
Then with the chef’s knife, cut what remains of the artichoke into quarters, keeping a little stem intact on each quarter.
With the paring knife, cut out the fuzzy choke from each quarter.
Place each piece of newly cut artichoke directly into a bowl of water containing the squeezed juice of a lemon.
The pieces will blacken as soon as air hits them, so the lemon water keeps them green. In fact, if there is any portion of the trimmed artichoke sticking out of water, it will blacken instantly.
Now that your artichokes are cleaned–proceed with the recipe below.
Chicken and Artichoke Stew
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
4 large artichokes, prepared as described above
1 leek, white to light-green part only, washed and sliced into 1/2″ half-moons
1 small onion diced into large pieces
2 pints grape tomatoes, pureed in the food processor (or 1 28-oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, lightly squeezed with hands or pureed in blender)
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
6 tbls olive oil
parsley for sprinkling
salt and pepper to taste.
In a heavy dutch oven, brown the chicken thighs in oil for about 5 minutes on one side. Turn and add the leek and onion and saute on high for about 3 minutes.
Add artichokes (no need to dry them–just pull them out of the lemon water and drop them into the dutch oven). Add wine and boil for about 2 minutes (no need to reduce wine too much). Add tomatoes.
Tonight, I’m serving quinoa and asparagus with my stew. You could serve rice or couscous, or simply a piece of oiled toasted country bread to soak up all of that wonderful sauce.