I love artichokes, and there's nothing more sensuous than pulling off a leaf, dunking it in melted butter, and sucking the tender part between your teeth. When I'm planning a veggie paella or pasta dish, however, I'd rather put that energy into the cooking, and that's why frozen artichoke hearts have a place in The Perfect Pantry.
There's a lot of mythology surrounding artichokes. According to an Aegean legend, the first artichoke goddess was a woman named Cynara, who so enraged the god Poseidon that he turned her into a thistle. And the first Artichoke Queen? Marilyn Monroe, crowned in 1947 in Castroville, California, the heart of America's artichoke industry.
Clarence Birdseye gets the credit for inventing the processes that led to what we now call "flash freezing", and Birds Eye Foods still dominates the frozen vegetable market. I've never been a huge fan of frozen vegetables, but technology has made it possible for foods to be flash frozen, or IQF (individually quick frozen), so that their peak flavor is preserved. In addition to artichoke hearts, I've started to keep frozen pearl onions on hand; they're peeled and ready to go directly from the freezer into Ted's favorite beef stew.
Most often, frozen artichoke hearts find their way into my new favorite vegetable paella recipe.
Vegetable paella with garlic sauce
One of my ta-dah entertaining dishes, this recipe, adapted from Paella! by Penelope Casas, serves 6-8. The accompanying garlic sauce provides an amazing kick.
Make the spicy garlic sauce:
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 tsp finely chopped fresh hot red or green pepper (jalapeño is fine)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or 1/4 tsp dried
4 Tbsp minced parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
Mash to a paste in a mortar or miniprocessor the sweet and hot peppers, cumin, salt, garlic, thyme, oregano, and 2 Tbsp of parsley. Stir in the oil and remaining parsley. Transfer to a serving bowl. (This will keep up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.)
Make the paella:
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, then cut in 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups well washed, dried, and coarsely chopped spinach leaves
2 medium red bell peppers, finely chopped
4 tsp finely chopped fresh hot red or green pepper (jalapeño is fine)
6 frozen artichoke hearts, quartered
6 large shiitake or other mushrooms (1/2 lb), stems removed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
8 medium scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
6 cups chicken broth, low-sodium canned or homemade, or vegetable broth
1/4 tsp crumbled thread saffron
8 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium tomato, seeded and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sweet Spanish smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp minced parsley
3 cups imported Spanish (Bomba or Valencia) or Arborio short-grain rice
Kosher or sea salt
1/2 lb snap peas or snow peas, strings removed
1 roasted red pepper, sliced lengthwise, for garnish (optional)
Combine in a large bowl the zucchini, spinach, sweet and hot peppers, artichokes, mushrooms, peas and scallions. Combine the broth and saffron in a pot and keep hot over the lowest heat.
Preheat the oven to 400°F for gas oven, 450° for electric.
Heat the oil in a paella pan measuring 17-18 inches at its widest point (or in a shallow casserole of a similar size), over two burners if necessary. Add the vegetables from the bowl and sauté about 3 minutes over high heat, until the vegetables are slightly softened. Stir in the tomato, garlic, paprika, cumin and parsley, and cook 2 minutes more. Add the rice and coat well with the pan mixture.
Pour in all the hot broth and bring to a boil. Taste for salt and continue to boil about 5 minutes, stirring and rotating the pan occasionally, until the rice is no longer soupy but sufficient liquid remains to continue cooking the rice. Stir in the snap peas, arrange the roasted red pepper slices decoratively on the top (a "spokes of the wheel" arrangement is traditional), and transfer to the oven. Cook, uncovered, 10-13 minutes in a gas oven, 15-20 minutes electric, until the rice is almost al dente. Remove to a warm spot, cover with foil, and let sit 5-10 minutes, until the rice is cooked to taste. Pass the garlic sauce separately.
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