Thursday, 24 January 2013

Fry This for Size!

Carciofi al Vapore & Fritti con Couscous allo Pomodoro & Basilico
Steamed & Fried Artichokes with Tomato & Basil Couscous

Small, purple and pretty as a picture, the new batch of Sicilian artichokes that we picked up for todays photo-shooting looked almost too good to eat! And to be honest- they somehow looked as if they may actually not taste so good, being as they looked so sturdy and robust. So this evening it was a journey of discovery to find out how the purple artichokes compared to the green... so exciting!

Usually I buy either the large, green, Roman artichokes and stuff them with herbs and bread crumbs... either those or the baby artichokes which can be eaten from top to toe... these, at about the size of a large lemon, I was not really sure of. But as soon as I began trimming them and realized how aromatic and perfumed they were- it was clear to me that the best approach to take was "less is more"...

So the first thing that I did was to top and tail them. I cut away the stem and then sliced off the top couple of inches- a clean cut right through, to remove the tough, end pieces of the leaves. I immediately dipped each cut surface into lemon juice to prevent it from oxidizing and turning brown, spread the leaves and seasoned them lightly with salt and pepper and then popped them into a small saucepan, on top of a steam rack. And then I let them steam away for a full half hour until they were lovely and soft and tender. You may find you need a little more time- anything up to 45 minutes is still pretty usual... but today I was just really lucky and found mine to be wonderfully tender.

Whilst the artichokes were steaming, I prepared my tomato and basil flavored couscous. To make this, I brought 3 cupfuls of water to the boil and added 2 finely diced sun-dried tomatoes and a tablespoon of tomato paste. I also added a couple of large basil leaves and let the tomatoes simmer gently for 5 minutes- after which time the water was read and flavor-packed from the tomatoes. I added 1 1/2 cups of couscous and a finely chopped Spring onion, stirred it in and removed the pot from the heat... and 15 minutes later had a wonderful and rich tomato couscous! I seasoned with a little pepper and just a hint of salt, as there was plenty of salt in the sun-dried tomatoes and the tomato paste. 

Once the artichokes were cooked and had cooled a little, I cut them in half and then using a teaspoon, scooped away the tiny amount of "choke"... these were so tender that was hardly any there. And lo and behold... the lovely purple coloring was completely gone! They had become as green as any other artichoke- sigh! But they still smelled terrific!

All that I needed to do now was to heat up some olive oil, add a clove of garlic which I squashed a little so that it would release more aroma into the oil, and a twig or two of thyme, a slice or two of lemon and then to place the artichokes into the frying pan with the cut surfaces facing down. After a couple of minutes, I flipped them over, turned off the heat and set about serving up the couscous first. I added a tiny drizzle of olive oil and an even tinier squeeze of lemon, then cut a fine "chiffonade" of 2-3 large basil leaves, stirred these in well and then spread out the couscous on my plate. The artichokes went on top, some chilled white wine went into my glass- and supper was served! The artichokes were full of flavor and soft and juicy. Don't tell everyone- but I just picked them up and bit right into them... the only part I could not eat was the very tip of each leaf- the rest was simply divine! 

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