Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sometimes I daydream about Artichokes (and manicotti)

Saveur is by far my most anticipated magazine every month. I devour it with great tenacity. It's a real page-turner for much so that I never let myself look ahead or casually peruse it when it first arrives. It's to be savored, appropriately. I have a stack of them beside my bed.

It's not a magazine I go to for too many recipes. It's more about the food-related articles and wonderful pictures for me. I don't know why I don't cook more from the magazine. An article from the March issue regarding artichokes nearly sent me into an obsession. All I could think about was preparing fresh artichokes...but I'd long cut myself off from our Saturday excursions to Whole Foods, given that I was technically unemployed as a student teacher. I couldn't use just any artichokes for the dishes I was dreaming of, after all. My obsession with Whole Foods and the supreme high I get from shopping there warrants a separate post.

Anyway, for a while I dreamed of a fresh artichoke or two sauteed with some dungeness crab and a decent Sauvignon Blanc (with some butter, of course). Mark had a similar dish in Portland last July. I soon dropped the crab idea as I'm really not that big of a fan of seafood (even though I think I should be and often try and force myself to enjoy it. It's a familiarity issue for me. The first times I ate Indian food, I liked it, but didn't love it. It took some getting used to. In my mind, I'm training myself to really crave a nicely cooked, rare piece of fish rather than bloody cow) also I was unemployed in Nashville, TN. Where would I get fresh dungeness crab without going broke anyway?

I soon moved on to this recipe for Stuffed Artichokes:

4 large, full-size artichokes
1 lemon, halved
1 3⁄4 cups dried bread crumbs
1 cup grated pecorino
1⁄3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1. Using a serrated knife, cut off artichoke stems to create a flat bottom. Cut top thirds off artichokes, pull off tough outermost leaves, and trim tips of leaves with kitchen shears. Rub cut parts with lemon halves. Open artichoke leaves with your thumbs to make room for stuffing; set aside.

2. Heat oven to 425°. In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, 3⁄4 cup pecorino, parsley, salt, pepper, and garlic. Working with one artichoke at a time over bowl, sprinkle one-quarter of bread crumb mixture over the artichoke and work it in between leaves. Transfer stuffed artichoke to a shallow baking dish. Drizzle each artichoke with 1 tbsp. oil. Pour in boiling water to a depth of 1". Rub 1 tbsp. olive oil on a sheet of aluminum foil, cover artichokes with foil (oiled side down), and secure foil tightly around dish with kitchen twine. Bake until a knife easily slides into the base of an artichoke, about 45 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle tops with remaining cheese, and switch oven to broil. Broil until tops of artichokes are golden brown, about 3 minutes.

When all are stuffed, they look like this:

When being eaten, the artichoke looks like this:

The artichoke is by far the most beautiful vegetable in my opinion. Sadly, I didn't enjoy eating them too much. They were still a little prickly. I'm not sure if this is due to Mark's inexperience in paring down the spiky points. We probably should have just doused it with melted butter and called it a night. The pecorino was nice and nutty. Maybe next time we'll make a pecorino butter sauce for them.

Along with the artichokes, we made some baked manicotti from the same issue. We started out by putting together a very simple marinara sauce:
From Saveur:

This tomato sauce, based on one served at Angelo's Fairmount Tavern, tastes just as good when tossed with spaghetti as it does when cooked in dishes like the Veal Parmesan and Baked Manicotti. We recommend using a good brand of canned tomatoes, such as Muir Glen; their balance of tartness and fruity sweetness will yield a brighter-tasting sauce. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 8 days.

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1⁄2 small onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano
1⁄4 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. finely chopped
curly or flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground
black pepper, to taste

1 Put tomatoes and their liquid into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Set aside.

2 Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

3 Add the chopped tomatoes along with the oregano and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly and its flavors come together, about 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper.

As for the Manicotti:

A little nutmeg added to the ricotta filling for this classic baked pasta imparts a subtle note of spice that complements the rich flavors of the dish, says Saveur.

4 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 cups Angelo's Marinara Sauce
1 8-oz. box dried manicotti shells (about 14)
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups whole-milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan
7 tbsp. chopped curly or flat-leaf parsley
1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten (I opted not to use any as I hate eggs)

1. Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan with 1 tbsp. butter and spread 1⁄2 cup of the marinara sauce across the bottom of the pan. Set aside. Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the manicotti and cook until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain manicotti and rinse under cold water; set aside.

Speaking of which, I've been reading about Julia Child lately and apparently she was both very tall, funny & foul-mouthed...sounds like my kind of gal, right? Well, she was once boiling manicotti in her tiny Paris apartment when she exclaimed to her husband, Paul, who told on her in a letter to his brother: "These damn things are hotter than a stiff cock."

Dear readers, please do not hate me or not employ me due to my bad language, as my grandmother Peg always said, "I was just repeatin' what somebody else said."

That never made a good enough excuse for her cursing when I was younger. So sorry blog, the cat's out of the bag, even though I appear to contain my urges to curse a blue streak in this forum, I do find humor in obscenities and cultivate my own foul mouth.

2. Heat oven to 450°. Heat remaining butter in a 12" skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer garlic to a medium bowl along with the ricotta, 1⁄2 cup parmesan, 5 tbsp. chopped parsley, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and eggs (if you aren't grossed out by them) and stir to combine.

3. Spoon some of the filling into both openings of each manicotti shell. (Alternatively, transfer the ricotta mixture to a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag, snip off a bottom corner of the bag, and pipe filling into pasta.) Repeat with remaining manicotti shells. Transfer stuffed manicotti to prepared baking dish, making 2 rows. Spread the remaining marinara sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining parsley. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

I won't make any comments on that last photo regarding what it looks like.

I agree with Saveur regarding the fresh nutmeg. It is a very nice flavor. I also, per Rachel Ray's instruction, add fresh nutmeg to all my greens. I got a bag of fresh nutmeg at the international market for really cheap. It's more than I'll ever use. There were several seeds in the bag and they keep indefinitely in your cupboard.

The manicotti was really good, but I didn't have enough sauce to cover all the noodles. I made two small pans and used Newman's Own Sockarooni sauce for the second dish. They were both quite nice. The Saveur marinara is more acidic and way less sweet.

As I said, we made these dishes a couple of months ago and I'm still catching up. I've been cooking a lot in the last month and I hope to be up to speed before too long.

I had kind of given up on the blog for a while because I thought it was too self-indulgent, but I found out yesterday that my friend Claudia's family really enjoys this site. I'd like to give a big shout out to the Lombardo's and say thanks for the encouragement. I started the blog for myself, of course, and it is good to keep up with recipes that I've altered, but I was beginning to feel a little silly, like no one was getting anything out of it but me. So hello Lombardo's, I feel like I know you guys too as Claudia talks about you all so much.


Chrystal M. Smith said...

I also really love to read and salivate.

Bette said...

Okay, weirdest thing ever. I read this post a few days ago when it was first listed. I was just looking through my blog follow list, and I saw your title again and the photo you posted. I was hit with the hardest slap of Deja vu, and I just realized, no kidding, I DREAMT ABOUT THESE ARTICHOKES LAST NIGHT!! How weird is that? I don't think you or Mark were in the dream, but I remember very clearly that I made your recipe and fed them to Dusty, but they fell apart. The colors of the artichokes were so vivid in my dream. What is even weirder is the title of your blog, so I wonder if it wasn't the power of suggestion. Crazy..