Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Sweets for My Babies!

Carciofini e Patate Dolce Gratinate alla Menta
Minted Baby Artichokes and Sweet Potato Gratin

It is almost a crime to eat them, those adorable little baby artichokes! So young and sweet and tender... but sometimes it is fun to sin- especially in the kitchen and at the dining table! I couldn't resist when I saw these little beauties at the indoor market on Saturday- they were the soft, purple round variety, which are just so much more tender...

There are any number of traditional dishes combining artichokes and potato in Italy, but I wanted, as usual, to do something just a little different. So I decided to use sweet potatoes for mine, to compliment the mild but earthy flavor of the artichokes and the freshness of the mint- and they tasty molto buono, even if I do say so myself!

The preparation was very simple- first of all, I plucked off the outer layer of leaves from the artichokes and peeled the stem. I trimmed down the largest, bottom leaves, with kitchen scissors, to about half way, removing the woody end parts of the leaves. I then cut away about a half of the upper leaves, trimming them down to the juiciest part in the middle. Why cook what you don't want to eat anyway?

I cut the artichokes in half and split each half into quarters, so that I had small, bite-sized slices. I immediately placed them into a mixture of water and lemon juice to prevent them from discoloring. I am not sure if this is true for all baby artichokes- but these were so tender and small that there was no "choke" so to speak of that needed removing... lucky me! You may want to check the middle of yours to see if there is any of that fine, flossy and troublesome stuff that you can quite simply cut or pull away.

I then peeled and sliced the sweet potato, into slices of about the same size as the artichoke slices. I placed the artichokes into my steamer and laid the sweet potato slices on top and steamed them for 15 minutes. Once they were steamed, the fun began!

The next and most important ingredient that needed chopping finely, was the fresh mint- and plenty of it! This was a single, meal-sized serving of 3 baby artichokes and a half of a medium-sized sweet potato. To this quantity I added a whole handful of mint. I also added a little chopped parsley, a little garlic a a little grated ginger. I carefully sautéed the potatoes and artichokes with all of the other ingredients in a little olive oil and seasoned with salt, plenty of pepper, a hint of nutmeg and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Be carefully, so at to just get everything nicely coated, but not to break up the sweet potatoes.

Next, I prepared a mix of breadcrumbs, grated salted ricotta cheese and a hint of olive oil. This would go to make the topping, which I added after arranging the sweet potato and artichokes in my little oven dish. I added a little thinly-sliced Spring onion and sprinkled the breadcrumb mix into the gaps in-between the artichokes and potatoes. And then into a hot oven it went for 5 minutes to warm through and 1-2 minutes under the broiler to get everything toasty and brown... mmm! The smell of the garlic, olive oil and mint is so wonderful! Be sure not to burn your lips because you won't be able to resist and will want to try it straight away ;-) !

Buon apetito!

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