We went out to dinner at really-you-must-go-there Dressler in Williamsburg on Saturday night with our most newly-married friends. Alex and Steve had leaden cocktails and I, well you know, I did that thing you do with your married female friends where you make sure they’ve ordered something with alcohol? Or you’ll start with the irresponsible rumor-mongering? Oh, I know this because it happens to me like every freaking day and people, there is always wine in my hand. We’re all caught up now? Onwards, then.
I wasn’t kidding the sixteen times I’ve mentioned in the past that I am a) obsessed with artichokes, b) that they are my favorite food on earth and c) that I will order pretty much anything on a menu that involves even a smidgen of them, thus when I saw that there was a salad comprised of an artichoke, cranberry beans and arugula, I briefly wondered if I could just order one for an appetizer and run off into the sunset with another. I controlled my desires (mostly), difficult as it was. The salad was dreamy, and I did my best not to moan audibly as I consumed, and seriously, why had I not thought of this before?
I fixed this last night. It was just my luck, really, after I’d whimpered and cried last week over the immaculate beauty of the artichokes MattBites had photographed. Why did my artichokes never, ever look like that? Why must I live on the wrong coast to truly be their Number One Fan? And then last night at the store, there they were, perfectly round and flawless, leafy orbs, looking especially pert after a 3,000+ mile trek. Clearly, this was a sign.
Now, I know preparing artichokes can be a little intimidating, and this dish had the extra twist of trimming them into a bowl-shape, which I will try to make as simple as possible for you to try yourself. Once you’ve gotten this done, and boiled them* for about a half-hour, you’re home free. I used some fancy-schmancy Italian imported cranberry beans from a jar; their plumpness adds a terrific texture to this dish, but go ahead and use your bean of choice. The dressing could not be simpler, as is it a thinned out version of the dipping sauce my mother always made when she cooked whole artichokes and my absolutely favorite flavor pairing with them. Toss the beans with it and fill the artichoke cavity; toss the arugula with it and spread it about, and that’s it.
Dinner–with some cured meats, pickled vegetables and sliced baguette on a platter, and a glass of Gruner Veltliner, because, oh, why not–is served. It’s the perfect light but indulgent 9:30 p.m. answer to your earlier torture on the treadmill. Unfortunately, it does nothing to offset the suckiness that Lost insists upon being these days, but it will make it easier to tolerate. Really, we’re just skimming the surface of artichokes’ charms.
* If you are as easily amused as I am, this is definitely going to be the best part. The artichoke hearts, you see, if you place them bowl-side down in the pot, bob around in the boiling water like those wind-up teeth at the dentist’s office, burping out little bits of water. Minutes and minutes of entertainment, people.
Artichoke, Cranberry Bean and Arugula Salad
2 of the largest, most globe-like artichokes you can find
A few cloves of garlic, smashed but left in their skins
One can of cranberry beans, rinsed and drained
A bundle of fresh arugula, washed and dried
2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare your artichokes: Peel the toughest, smallest and greenest outer leaves off and discard them. Once you reach the first of the yellow leaves, of moderate thickness, you’re good. Leaving half to one full inch of the yellow leaves attached to the stem, cut the remainder off in one clean cut. Now, start scooping, with a small paring knife and a small spoon (a grapefruit one works great here). You want to remove all of the spindly inner leaves as well as all off the furry choke, while creating a bowl shape, using those truncated yellow leaves as sides. Rub half a lemon over every cut surface, so it doesn’t brown. Be generous. Now, as carefully as you can, peel all of the dark green skin from the stem, again rubbing each cut surface with the halved lemon. Trim the stem down to one inch or less, making sure that it is flat and that when turned upside-down, the artichoke can balance on the surface, again coating the surface with lemon. Repeat this process for the second artichoke.
Bring a large pot of water to boil, adding a few glugs of plain vinegar, those garlic cloves and the lemons you’d used to coat the artichokes, first squeezing any remaining juice into the pot. If you have any old white wine, this is also an excellent flavor to impart in the artichokes. Boil the bowl-shaped artichoke hearts for about 25 to 35 minutes, or until they can be pierced easily with a fork. Drain them and set them aside. (These can be cooked a day or even two in advance, and reheated when you’re ready to make the salad.)
Make your dressing: Whisk your mayonnaise with the juice of one lemon. You want a thin dressing. Season it with salt and pepper.
Assemble your salad: Turn each artichoke upside-down on a plate so it stands on it’s truncated stem. Toss about 1/2 to 2/3 of a cup of beans with a spoonful or two of the dressing, and fill the artichoke cavity with them. Toss the arugula with more dressing, and arrange it over and around the artichoke. Season with more salt and pepper. Leave the extra dressing near you as you’ll probably want more for your artichoke heart. Eat with vigor.