Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stuffed Artichokes with Spiced Tomato Chutney

There are a handful of foods out there, where my first thought is always “what on earth made someone decide it was a good idea to try to eat this?” Sea urchins are one of these foods, same with pineapples. And now we’re in the beginning of artichoke season – a vegetable that looks more like a weapon than dinner.

Artichokes are a bit of a puzzle, and it takes a fair bit of effort to prepare one properly. Their outer leaves are tough and prickly, and mostly indigestible even after cooking. Once you get through these leaves, there are the tender inner leaves, but then you hit a dense brush of thistle (the “choke”) that needs to be removed before you can get to the incredibly flavorful, meaty artichoke heart. And the unwieldy-looking stem is quite nice to eat, as well, but you have to trim off the outer layer of skin first.

Steamed, baked, roasted, or fried, artichokes are well worth the effort. They’re a nutritional powerhouse, very low in calories and are particularly good for the liver. Make sure you buy artichokes with tight leaves and an even green color, with as little browning as possible. If you give the artichoke a squeeze (careful not to prick yourself!), you should hear the leaves squeak a little against each other.

This recipe calls for a combination of steaming and baking. The spiced tomato chutney simmers while the artichoke steams, and is then stuffed into the cavity of each halved artichoke before baking. Pair an artichoke half with a green salad or rice pilaf for a light dinner, or eat both halves if you’re feeling really hungry.

Yields 4 artichoke hearts

Stuffed Artichokes with Spiced Tomato Chutney

2 artichokes

Spiced Tomato Chutney:
1 tsp canola oil
2 tbsp walnuts
1 garlic clove, pressed
½ small onion, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
½ pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 tsp spicy brown mustard
¾ tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp hot pepper flakes
¼ cup plain breadcrumbs, or less
Grated parmesan cheese

Lemon-Garlic Olive Oil:
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper
  1. Clean and trim artichoke: using a serrated knife, remove the top ¼ of artichoke and trim the hard leaves from artichoke’s base. Snip the tough, pointy ends off remaining leaves with scissors, and remove the thin, tough skin from the outside of the stalk with a paring knife. Trim the stem so the artichoke will stand upright.
  2. Stand artichokes upright (stem-end down) in steamer and sprinkle with salt and top with lemon slice. Steam for about 40 minutes; then remove from heat. Meanwhile, begin making the tomato chutney.
Tomato Chutney
  1. Heat canola oil in small pan over medium heat. Add walnuts and stir continuously until toasted and fragrant, about two minutes; set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepot, add 1 tbsp olive oil, garlic, and onion; sauté over medium-low heat until onions begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes. Whisk remaining olive oil together with mustard, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, salt, and hot pepper flakes (for less heat, only add a pinch of pepper flakes). Add tomatoes to pot, and add liquid spice mixture. Stir well and bring to a boil; then cover and simmer on low heat until thick, about 20-30 minutes. If mixture begins to dry out, add small amounts of water (no more than 2-3 tbsp).
  3. Remove from heat and, in a separate bowl, combine tomato mixture with toasted walnuts and slowly add breadcrumbs until desired consistency is reached; mix well.
Stuffed Artichokes
  1. After the artichokes have steamed for 40 minutes (Step 2), remove from heat and let cool. Once each artichoke has cooled enough to handle, halve each one and scrape out the thistle, or “choke”, until all bits of fuzz are gone.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the artichokes in an ovenproof dish; spoon the spiced tomato chutney into each artichoke half, and generously top with grated parmesan cheese. In a separate bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper; drizzle half of the lemon-garlic olive oil over the artichoke. Add roughly ¼ cup water to the pan to prevent the artichokes from drying out; then bake for 20 minutes.
  3. Serve warm, with remaining olive oil drizzled over top.