Eating seasonally and locally wasn't a completely alien concept to me when I first arrived in Sicily but my first few trips to the local market drove home this concept immensely. In the tiny town where I lived, out-of-season specialty produce wasn't flown in from all corners of the world—locally raised fruits and vegetables were the only option.
When it was time for artichokes, we incorporated them into every meal. These weren't the woody and pricey artichokes typically on supermarket shelves—they were tender and thistly baby artichokes that grew in gardens all over town and on farms throughout the countryside. We enjoyed them in everything from pastas and frittatas to cold antipasti.
We bought armfuls and when we had finally had enough, we prepared them in a manner very similar to this recipe for Baby Artichokes, Sicilian Style, adapted from The Southern Italian Table by Arthur Schwartz. This way, even after spring turned into summer we were still able to enjoy these tender little artichokes.
- Yield:4 to 6
- 1 lemon
- 1 pound baby artichokes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 10 fresh spearmint leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Have ready a bowl of water with several ice cubes and the juice of 1 lemon. Save the spent lemon halves.
Break off the tough outer leaves of the artichokes, cut off about 1 inch of the top, and rub them with the reserved lemon halves. Add the artichokes to the ice water. (They can stay in the water for several hours, refrigerated. When you are ready to cook them, halve them and, as you do, put them back in the water to prevent darkening.)
Drain the artichokes, but don't dry them. Place them in one layer, cut side down, in a 10 to 12-inch skillet. Drizzle them with olive oil, then sprinkle with the minced garlic and salt. Tear the mint leaves into small pieces and scatter them over the top. Put just 2 or 3 tablespoons of water in the pan.
Cover the pan and place the artichokes over low heat. After about 5 minutes, check that they are cooking and the water hasn't totally cooked out. After about 10 minutes, turn them over and recover. You can hear when the water cooks out-the pan will start to sizzle. Keep the artichokes just barely moist. After 15 to 20 minutes, the artichokes will be thoroughly tender, the garlic still white, and there will be no liquid, just a bit of oil, on the bottom of the pan.
Add pepper, and serve hot or at room temperature.