Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Artichokes with Pear
Cooking inspiration can strike in many different guises, you might be reading a food magazine, shopping at the greengrocer or butcher, or perhaps, better yet, your better half had recently visited a farmer's market and come back with a mystery bag of ingredients.
Which is kind of what happened in this instance.
Together they sat on the kitchen table, maybe a little incongruously, but side by side nonetheless.
Pears and artichokes.
I watched unthinkingly for a couple of days, until it dawned that due to a lack of attention from the purchaser, some kind of artichoke action was expected from me. They're a bit of a favourite around these parts and one of the first vegetables to signal the arrival of spring. However, deep into autumn and artichokes really live up to their name, with the flower pistels far more developed and ready to make you choke.
Ever see a cat cough up a furball? If you eat late season artichokes, not properly prepared, that could be your fate.
Of course, those who love this flower bud from the thistle family, gladly trim back all those tough leathery outer leaves, to reach the tender heart and blithely scoop out any offending choke. The truth is, more artichoke is actually discarded than what is ever eaten.
It's kind of the opposite of cabbage, whereby a few manky outer leaves and the insignificant solid central core hold no culinary promise. But the leaves are real social butterflies, happy to partner up with whatever else is to hand, they gorge on fat, swoon with pork, have a swinging time in a minestrone and a secret love affair with apples, especially long simmered red cabbage with apples.
One thing cabbage and artichokes have in common is they both don't mind a bit of sharpness, a necessity with artichokes to stop them from browning. But consider red cabbage with apples, where a bit of vinegar is vital, not just to set the colour, but also to balance the sweetness.
So, if artichokes like a bit of acidity, would they behave like red cabbage and become more rounded with a bit of fruit sugar?
Pears and artichokes sound an unlikely partnership, but they really do work. This is one dish I'd like to see you give a shot, a dish of few parts that is greater than its sum. For black pudding lovers looking for an alternative to fried apple, this is for you. Otherwise, a pork chop would go well.
Artichokes with Pear
50ml olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 firm pear, peeled, cored and diced
1 tablespoon white balsamic or white wine vinegar
salt & fresh ground pepper
Strip all the tough outer leaves from the artichokes and cut of the top third or so of remaining leaves. Cut each base into quarters and scoop out with a teaspoon any hairy choke. Place in a bowl of water in which you've squeezed the juice of a lemon to stop any browning.
Sweat the onion in the olive oil until soft but not browned. Add the prepared artichokes while still wet and simmer for a minute or so. Add the diced pear and white balsamic, then season with salt and fresh ground pepper.
Place the lid on the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes, check for water if necessary and cook until the artichokes are soft. You may need a splash more of vinegar. Add the chopped dill and serve.