Wednesday, June 05, 2013

In Season NW: Spring Things…Baby Artichokes

Tender young things are everywhere at the farmers' markets these days, from curly green scapes of garlic to sweet spring onions to the diminutive first buds of the artichoke flower. These baby artichokes are different from their more developed selves, and not just in their size. Because they are picked at such an early stage of development, they don't have the leathery leaves or the fuzzy choke, which means they can be eaten whole after some trimming.

Snap off outer leaves.

I'd bought a couple of pounds of these little gems at the King farmers market, thinking they might come in handy for an appetizer that I needed to take to a dinner that evening. The sizes ranged from itsy bitsy (cones a couple of inches long) to small (a little over three inches), and I was planning to combine them with some of Dave's pancetta and chopped spring garlic for a finger or fork-friendly snack.

Sauté in pancetta fat…mmmmm.

I'd recommend buying more artichokes than you think you'll need, since the trimming process whittles down the size of the artichokes by more than half. But once that's done, I think you'll find this sauté is fabulous as an appetizer or as part of an antipasto platter, but would also be terrific tossed with pasta. A fittingly delicious tribute to spring!

Baby Artichokes with Pancetta, Garlic and Lemon

2 lbs. baby artichokes (or more)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 lb. pancetta or bacon
2 Tbsp. garlic, minced fine
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
1/2 tsp. pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika), optional

To prepare the artichokes, fill a medium-sized mixing bowl with water and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Snap off the outer leaves of each artichoke until you reach the tender, pale inner leaves. Cut off the upper half of the cone and discard. With a paring knife, trim the stem to 1/2" and peel off the outer skin. Halve each artichoke and immediately place in bowl with lemon water to keep them from browning.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and fry the pancetta until browned and its fat is rendered. Remove pancetta from skillet with a slotted spoon and put aside, leaving fat in the skillet. Remove artichokes from acidulated water and dry slightly, then add to fat remaining in skillet. Sauté till tender, about 9 minutes. Add garlic and pimenton (if using) and sauté briefly. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and remaining lemon juice. Cool to room temperature and serve.

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