Friday, June 6, 2008


After what seemed like weeks of boring cooking and eating takeout, my kitchen was miraculously brought back to life this week, bustling with seasonal ingredients and two cookbooks: a new favorite and an old standby.

On Wednesday after a very special day of talking about artichokes in the Library (more about that at a later date…), my boyfriend and I walked the talk and braised some of the “thistly but delectable vegetable”** with peas and shallots. I’m embarrassed to say that prior to Wednesday night, I was more fluent in opening jars of artichokes than spooning out their chokes, but after Lidia’s recipe for braised artichokes in Lidia’s Italy (my new favorite cookbook), I’m officially a convert.

And last night I broke out Viana La Place's Verdura which, alongside some SPF 60 (you think I’m kidding?), is my constant companion until October. Verdura was given to me years ago by one of my oldest friends who at the time was working at Kitchen Arts and Letters – the ultimate cookbook store. If it’s good enough for Kitchen Arts to recommend, it’s been vetted enough for me. La Place's recipes are all wonderfully simple, allowing the flavors of the vegetables to shine through and take their rightful center stage. I can't think of a better summer cookbook than Verdura.

Last night I made La Place’s recipe for escarole bruschetta, featuring a cast of roasted pine nuts, plumped up raisins, and chopped olives all mixed with wilted escarole for a medley of unique flavors that come together seamlessly. And with escarole blending the winter green with the spring flavor, it was the perfect way to start an early June meal.

I also made what I like to call Old Faithful: zucchini coins cooked over high heat in olive oil and then liberally showered with pecorino romano and basil. A simple, but always satisfying side.

As far as I’m concerned, summer has officially begun.

**This quote, describing artichokes, is featured in a December 22, 1935 article in the New York Times detailing Mayor La Guardia’s ban of the artichoke which was put into effect to help put an end to food racketeers.

Braised Artichokes with Pecorino (and added peas...)
(adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia’s Italy)

2 lbs. small artichokes
1 lemon for acidulated water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 cups chopped onion (we used shallots)
1/2 t. coarse sea salt
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1 cup shredded pecorino

Trim the artichokes, slice very thinly and soak the slices in acidulated water.
Pour the olive oil into the skillet, and set it over medium heat. Scatter the garlic and onion in the pan. Cook for 4 minutes or so, stirring and tossing occasionally; season with the salt and red pepper flakes.
When the vegetables are sizzling and wilting, lift the artichoke slices from the acidulated water, drain briefly, and drop them into the skillet. Stir well, cover the pan tightly, and let everything cook slowly.
After 10 minutes, the artichoke slices should be softening - if they're hard and the pan is try, add some spoonfuls of acidulated water and continue cooking, covered. Braise for 15 to 20 minutes total, until the artichokes are tender and lightly colored.
Turn off the heat, and spread the artichokes out in the skillet bottom. Scatter the shredded cheese evenly on top, and cover the pan. Let it melt into the vegetables for several minutes before serving.

Bruschetta with Sautéed Escarole
(adapted from Verdura by Viana La Place)

2 T. raisins
2 T. pine nuts
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 medium head escarole, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch strips
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
1/3 cup Kalamata olives
6 thick slices country bread

Cover raisins with warm water until plumped, about 20 minutes. Drain. Toast the pine nuts in a small sauté pan over medium heat, until light brown, then transfer to a small dish. Pit olives and cut into quarters. Finely chop 3 cloves garlic. Rinse escarole in cold water, and drain but do not dry. Place a large pan over medium-low heat. Add olive oil and chopped garlic, escarole and salt and sauté until escarole is tender, about 10 minutes. Add raisins, pine nuts and olives, and toss. Grill or toast bread. Rub with remaining garlic cloves and drizzle with olive oil. Spoon escarole over bread, and serve.

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