A taste of thistles
Among the many vegetables that summon the sunshine to brighten our deprived winter tables is the artichoke. You may wonder, sinking your teeth into the fleshy and tender base of an artichoke petal, how it is that humans managed to discover this delectable vegetable. Who would have thought the prickly scales of this thistle could obscure a sweet and succulent heart.
Blackened over a grill; steamed, dipped in garlicky butter and savored petal by petal; marinated and tossed onto a pizza—there are innumerable ways to enjoy artichokes. Here are two of my most recent favorites.
Baby artichokes stuffed with Tetilla
Tetilla is a soft, gooey cow’s milk cheese from Galicia in northwestern Spain. Translating as ‘little tit’ the name refers to its naughtily suggestive form. Tetilla makes a wonderfully creamy and delicious filling for roasted baby artichokes. Serves four as a starter/tapa.
6-8 baby artichokes
4 oz Tetilla cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the artichokes in half. Chop off the rough tip, a half inch or so at the top of the bud. Break off the rough, dark green outer scales; stop when you come to the pale petals below. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the outer layer of the stem. Using a paring knife, make a cut below the choke (the triangle of tiny hairs in the center), then scoop out the contents with a small spoon. If the artichokes are very young they make have little or no ‘choke,’ either way you’ll want to make a dip in the center large enough to hold a dollop of cheese. Blanch the artichokes for a minute or two in boiling water. Drain.
2. Coat the artichoke halves lightly in olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Arrange, cut side up, in a roasting pan. Press a dollop of Tetilla into the center of each artichoke. Roast for 20 minutes or until tender.
While fresh artichokes are special indeed, there are times when the jarred or canned version is a valuable time-saver. These prepared artichoke hearts can be tossed into a host of dishes from paella to pasta and they work perfectly in this cool, herb-laden tuna salad.
Granja beans are white beans cultivated in Austurias and characterized by their huge size. They have a high fat content and are gorgeously creamy. Traditionally used in Fabada, a hearty Asturian stew, they also make a lovely base for cool salads such as this one. Serves four as a light lunch.
13-15 oz jar artichoke hearts (my favorite are grilled, marinated hearts)
7-8 oz jar tuna in olive oil
1 ½ cup dry Granja beans or a 23 oz jar cooked Ganja beans
8 piquillo peppers, cut in strips
1 preserved lemon, peel only, minced
½ cup black olives
1-2 tsp capers
1 small bulb fennel, shaved (reserve fronds)
1 cup fresh herbs such as chives, parsley, and fennel fronds, chopped
juice of 1 lemon (or to taste)
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1. If using dry beans, cover with water and soak overnight, then cook until tender. Chill before preparing the salad.
2. Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl.
3. Dress to taste with lemon juice, olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.
Padrón Pepper Plants
Long awaited Padrón pepper plants are arriving this week at The Spanish Table. These distinctive Spanish peppers make one of my favorite tapas. Fried lightly in olive oil, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and eaten whole they are delicate, slightly sweet and smoky. Delicioso! Especially when accompanied by a glass of rose on a warm, languorous summer evening.
Get ready for Padrón season with your very own plant starts. Easy to tend and harvest, you’ll have a continual crop of peppers all summer long. The starts should be kept inside in a sunny spot. Wait until June, or when nighttime lows are consistently over 50 degrees, and then plant them outside. – Rachel Adams