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Artichokes : Beyond Steaming

March 09, 1995|RUSS PARSONS | TIMES DEPUTY FOOD EDITOR

If you've never had an artichoke any way but steamed, you won't believe what you've been missing.

There is almost no limit to what you can do with them. Start basic--try tossing whole trimmed baby artichokes in the bottom of the pan when you're roasting meat, the way you would baby potatoes. Next try frying them--not in a heavy batter (the way you'll find them most places), but merely quartered and fried in hot olive oil. Sprinkled with a little salt and some lemon juice, they're wonderful.

Once you get comfortable, try the following: Artichoke strudel and torta are both elegant appetizers or light main dishes. Artichokes barigoule are a flavorful side dish to roast meat or fish. Artichoke cake . . . well, you'll just have to try it to believe it.

STRUDEL OF BABY ARTICHOKES

By many accounts, the best cook in the Monterey Bay area is Brian Whitmer, long-time chef at Carmel's Highlands Inn. This month he's opening his own restaurant, Montrio, in downtown Monterey. "This is my spin on the classic Greek dish spanakopita, which I always used to eat when I was in New York," Whitmer says.

5 pounds baby artichokes

Water

Juice 1 lemon

1/2 cup very thinly sliced shallots

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 bunch spinach, rinsed and cleaned

1 cup clarified butter

8 sheets filo pastry

1 bunch chervil

1 tablespoon salt

2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Melted butter

Cut away tips and dark green outer leaves from baby artichokes and trim bottoms. Place in bowl with water and lemon juice. When all artichokes are cleaned, remove from water and cut lengthwise into thin slices, returning slices to lemon water.

Saute shallots briefly in olive oil in hot skillet. Add drained artichoke slices. Cook until artichokes are just tender.

Cook spinach in 2 tablespoons clarified butter in wide pan until tender. Set aside on paper towels. Let cool, then chop.

Divide filo pastry into 2 stacks of 4 sheets each. Combine artichokes, spinach, chervil and salt in bowl. Spread mixture thinly over half of length of each stack of filo pastry, covering 1 short end. Sprinkle goat cheese over each stack.

Starting at end with filling, slowly roll up filo, forming strudel. Brush each strudel with remaining clarified butter. Slice each strudel into 4 serving portions. Bake at 375 degrees 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 appetizer servings.

Each serving contains about:

502 calories; 1,415 mg sodium; 65 mg cholesterol; 38 grams fat; 36 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams protein; 2.5 grams fiber.

ARTICHOKE PIE (Torta 'i Cacuocciuli)

This recipe is both sophisticated and earthy, like much of the food in the book from which this was taken, Vincent Schiavelli's "Papa Andrea's Sicilian Table" (Birch Lane Press: 1993).

2 pounds baby artichokes

Water

Juice 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Torta Crust

6 eggs

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup grated caciocavallo or imported provolone cheese

1/2 cup grated locatelli or imported pecorino cheese

Pepper

2 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs

1 cup coarsely shredded mozzarella

Large green olives

Cut away tips and dark green outer leaves from baby artichokes, trim bottoms and cut in half. Place in bowl with water mixed with lemon juice. Soak 15 minutes.

Heat olive oil in non-reactive skillet. Add drained artichokes and sea salt to taste. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring several minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 20 minutes, or until artichokes are tender but firm. Stir from time to time to prevent burning.

When artichokes are cooked, remove cover, turn up heat to high and saute until light golden. Remove from oil using slotted spoon. Set aside to cool.

Prepare Torta Crust and set aside.

Beat together eggs, cream, caciocavallo and locatelli cheeses and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle Torta Crust with bread crumbs, then mozzarella in even layer. Arrange artichokes in neat layer with cut side down. Pour egg mixture over all. Bake at 375 degrees until rich golden brown, about 1 hour.

Roll out leftover dough and cut out decorative shapes with cookie cutter. Bake on separate sheet until light brown and when pie is done, stand cut-outs on top as decoration.

Serve slightly warm, accompanied with large green olives.

TORTA CRUST

2 cups flour, sifted

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup shortening

2 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon cognac

Sift together flour and salt in bowl. Cut in shortening until size of split peas. Cut in eggs as well. Add water and cognac. Form dough into ball. Cover. Let stand 10 minutes.

Roll out into 12-inch-diameter circle about 3/16-inch thick. Place in 9-inch diameter, 2-inch-deep baking pan or springform pan with removable bottom.

Makes 1 (9-inch) pie, or 8 appetizer servings.

Each serving contains about:

531 calories; 695 mg sodium; 251 mg cholesterol; 37 grams fat; 33 grams carbohydrates; 19 grams protein; 0.94 gram fiber.

ARTICHOKE CAKE

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

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