Artichokes, baby! With fettuccine and ricotta

Miniature artichokes are in the market now and I could not resist them, despite the labor that they entail. When you peel them back, they are the color of spring. Not the full, flush green of summer, but the tentative, delicate green of budding trees that makes you want to weep and sigh. A green that fills your soul with longing and pleasure, and makes the interminable and tedious winter recede into misty memory.

We’re not there quite yet in this land of ice and snow, but these baby thistles give me hope. And the snow, except for a few piles next to the rhododendrons in my garden, has melted. For now. One cannot be too cautious in the month of March.

An artichoke is mature when its petals have reached their peak growth but have not yet opened. A “baby” artichoke is not a baby at all, but grows at the base of the plant, and because its upstairs neighbors on the stalk shade it, it simply does not attain a very large size. As you prepare them, toss them into a bowl of acidulated water, since they turn brown quickly when exposed to the air.

So, what do you do with them? Ah, well, there’s a bit of a rub, but just a bit of one. Because they are small, they do not have the fuzzy inner “chokes” that the larger globe artichokes possess, so cleaning them is not really such a chore. Check out the tutorial below for details. You would treat a large artichoke in the exact same way, with one exception: you must scrape out the fuzzy choke with a sharp-edged spoon or paring knife.

How to prepare a baby artichoke:

Pull off the outer leaves of the artichoke until you are down to tender, light green leaves. There will be a lot of perceived waste. You must will yourself not to mind it.

Peel the stem: Insert a paring knife into the base of the artichoke and peel it back to remove the outer tough (and bitter) covering. Slice off about 1/4-inch of the thorny tip.

Halve and then quarter the artichoke and drop it into acidulated water. Repeat.

Whole wheat fettuccine with baby artichokes and ricotta (Serves 4)

Whole wheat pasta adds an earthy touch to this easy pasta. If you want to cheat, you could purchase frozen artichoke hearts and quarter them. It will save you about 15 minutes.

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

16 baby artichokes, tough outer leaves removed and quartered

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 pound whole wheat fettucine

1 cup ricotta salt and pepper

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Freshly grated Parmesan

1. Fill a medium bowl with cool water and add the lemon juice. Prepare the artichokes as directed above (see tutorial). Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil.

2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and as soon as it starts to sizzle, add the artichokes. Add 1/4 cup water, cover the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.

3. Add a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente.

4. Meanwhile, whisk the ricotta, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of hot pasta water together in a large pasta bowl until creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the parsley.

5. Reserve about 1/2 cup pasta water and drain the pasta. Add it to the pasta bowl with the ricotta and toss to coat the pasta. If necessary, add a little hot pasta water to attain a creamy consistency. Add the artichokes and toss again. Serve immediately with generous amounts of grated Parmesan.

Take a walk around the web for more on artichokes: Artichokes and grits from [no recipes] 

Sautéed baby artichokes (and more) from Simply Recipes 

Artichoke tapenade from David Leboviz

Fried baby artichokes from Steamy Kitchen

Grilled artichoke stems with tarragon garlic butter from White on Rice Couple