Olive oil poached baby artichokes with spinach and pine nuts
While I was travelling in Spain recently I was contacted by an olive oil expert and fellow blogger Judy Ridgway about writing a guest post for her blog. Judy is an international olive oil expert and for the past twenty years has worked with olive and olive oil producers in all of the European producing countries as well as emerging “new world” producers in California, Australia, South Africa and South America. Judy published a paper commissioned by the European Commission for the promotion of olive oil titled “Taste and flavour in Olive Oil” in which she outlined factors defining quality in olive oil and created a vocabulary for describing olive oil that is now in general use. As a consultant Judy gives expert advise on product choice to leading importers, wholesalers and retailers around the world. One of the fun things she does and that I hope to attend sometime is a series olive oil tasting and appreciation classes that she conducts in London and Brighton in England and related seminars in Italy, Spain and Australia. Judy has published extensively on food, wine and olive oil and you can see her publications here. Recently she published an e-book “Remarkable Recipes” about olive oil containing recipes from olive oil producers from around the world. I have the book and love the variety and authenticity of the recipes. You can order the book through Amazon here. To read more about her extensive experience and published work see here.
Judy asked me to post a recipe using olive oil and explain a little bit of why I like olive oil. That was an easy task as I find olive oil indispensible in the kitchen and as you can see from my post here, I would go to great length to have an authentic experience with an olive tree:). I have always been fascinated with olive trees. There is something wise and contemplative about their gnarly, ancient looking trunks and silvery leaves, as if they have seen everything through the centuries while bearing their fruit for civilizations. Olive trees are among the oldest cultivated trees and around the mediterranean some are said to be 3,000 years old and still producing fruit from which the highly prized oil is made. I recently returned from travelling for two months around Spain, much of it in Andalucia, the largest olive oil producing region in the world. It wasn’t harvest season but I did taste several very special olive oils including olive oil made from olives of 1000 year old trees. The concentrated, deep flavour was nothing like I have ever tasted before and left me wanting more.
I cannot imagine cooking without olive oil. The flavour it imparts is irreplaceable. A little bit of olive oil goes a long way in bringing out the flavour of foods, adding its own flavours and aromas to everything it touches. We use olive oil in salad dressings, in quick sauté, as a finishing oil, even in baking, but one cooking method that is less known is poaching food in olive oil. I have heard of poaching in oil before but the truth is that I haven’t experimented with this cooking method until recently. Once I tried it though I was hooked.
Poaching is cooking food in liquid at lower temperature allowing it to cook in a long slow pace. You cover the food in the liquid and cook it barely simmering at temperatures between 160-180℉ until done. Mostly you’d think of poaching in stock, wine or milk but I challenge you to stretch your culinary horizons and consider poaching in olive oil. When poaching in olive oil the food emerges beautifully moist with tender texture and added flavours and aromas from the poaching oil. Olive oil is a wonderful medium for poaching, keeping moisture and flavours sealed in while slowly cooking the food. The oil is also reusable so don’t throw it away after poaching. Rather, allow it to cool, then strain it and keep refrigerated for use the next time you cook with oil. It will impart lovely flavours to your food.
The recipe I wrote for Judy is for poached baby artichokes and you can find it on Judy’s website here. It is a versatile recipe that you can serve as an appetizer, a first course, as part of a salad or alongside a main course. It combines my love for artichokes and for olive oil and I thought was a good one to share on her site. I hope you get inspired and enjoy.
Artichokes are truly a spring treat. Available for only a short time in early spring (let’s forget the dehydrated specimen lingering in the produce section other times of the year), you have to watch for it and catch it when it’s in its prime. I think of an artichoke as a mysterious vegetable. Round and plump, enclosed in a protective thorny armor it challenges you to get close and discover what’s inside.
In the center of the artichoke there is a heart, protected by a fuzzy layer of thorns and hair. The heart is considered a delicacy, perhaps because reaching it is labour intensive. The heart is not the only edible part of the artichoke though. Each of the leaves has a soft part on the bottom that can, once cooked, be dipped into lemon butter or aioli and scraped off with your teeth. Not a particularly elegant undertaking but delicious all the same.
When buying artichokes look for round, tight and heavy specimen indicating it is young, fresh and full of moisture. The leaves should be tight and the skin somewhat glossy. The outer size is not necessarily an indication that it has a big heart. A better sign indicating the size of the heart may be a wide and round bottom part.
For this recipe it’s best to get the smaller specimen known as baby artichokes but it also works with full size artis if that’s all you can find. After poaching the artichokes I fill them with a spinach and shallot mixture and sprinkle with toasted bread crumbs and pine nuts. The entire artichoke is edible this way, served with a drizzle of olive oil and a wedge of lemon to squeeze over top.
Recipe serves 2
8 baby artichokes
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups fresh spinach
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup coarse bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/3 cup pine nuts
Preparing the artichokes:
While preparing the artichokes for poaching keep them dry as any water clinging to them will splatter when it comes in contact with the oil. To trim the artichokes lay each on its side and with a very sharp knife slice off the top 1/2, discarding the thorny tips. Next, peel back and snap off a few of the smaller leaves just above the stem. With a small sharp knife trim around the base to expose the edible white flesh. To prevent oxidation immediately rub all the cut surfaces with lemon.
Once you have trimmed the top and bottom you need to remove the hairy choke in the center. Loosen the leaves with your fingertips and gently, using a knife, pry the center open and scrape out the hairy, thorny bits allowing the small cavity to open. Rub all open surface with lemon.
Fill a 1 quart pot with olive oil to about the height of the artichokes. Gently place the artichokes in the oil and add a few of the lemon pieces that you used to rub the artichokes with. The artichokes should be just barely submerged in the oil. Place the pot on medium heat and allow it to heat up to about 160-170℉. Use a thermometer or watch for small bubbles around the pot.
Cook for about 15-20 minutes at a low simmer until the artichokes are cooked through. Pierce with a knife a couple of times to test if they are done.
When the artichokes are cooked through remove from the heat and using a spoon take them out of the oil and place upside down on a plate to drain.
To cook the spinach:
Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Add shallot and cook until softened but not browned.
Add the spinach and cook, tossing with tongs until wilted and cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
The crumb mixture:
Add the oil to the same skillet you cooked the spinach in and set on medium high heat.
When the oil is hot add the bread crumbs and pine nuts and cook until they begin to turn golden, stirring frequently.
Add the cheese and stir to combine. Remove from heat.
Place the artichokes on a serving platter, spoon some of the spinach mixtue into each cavity. Spoon some of the bread crumb and pine nut mixture around the plate and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
Serve warm or at room temperature.