Smörgåsbord; artichokes ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

28 May 2007

Smörgåsbord; artichokes

This week and weekend was full but FULL of family. Mostly this meant John's parents. We always have fun with them since we can take them to every single restaurant we haven't been able to come up with a good excuse to go to in the past month or month and a half. So we went to Osteria, to Fiesta del Mar, to Joanie's. We ate field mushrooms in olive oil, shrimp over spinach fettuccine, hearts of palm salads, veal ravioli. We ate gigantic fish burritos and sour cream and bean burritos and vast plates of rice studded with cubed potato. We ate gigantic 3-egg omelets stuffed with avocado, then went to the store for more avocado, then made and ate two avocados' worth of guacamole at home.

I did not take any pictures of the restaurant things, however, since this project is all about cooking things at home. "You better have cooked some things at home, then, Eileen." We did.

John's dad is hereby contributing to the late theme of "stuff in California", particularly produce. This is a guy whose backyard is being slowly subsumed, season by season, in a shiny collection of raised beds filled with three layers of dirt, straw, and compost, then blackberries and raspberries, 3 kinds of tomatoes, 3 kinds of melon, 3 kinds of squash, 3 kinds of basil, various peppers, carrots, potatoes, green beans, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers: you name it and it's probably grown in their yard. I am totally jealous, even though they have to battle deer, not squirrels. So you can imagine what such a person thinks of CA produce and the farmstands you see on the way to Half Moon Bay and/or Sacramento. Our entire counter was suddenly full of bags of local fruit and artichokes.

You don't want to COOK with local strawberries and bags of grapes, especially when it is getting up to the actual summer period, so they ended up cut into fruit salad. You do want to cook the artichoke, however. Then you want to mix up a vinaigrette and set out all the sandwich equipment in the house so as to go for full perfect smörgåsbord activity.

You guys know that smörgåsbord is essentially a huge Swedish-originated buffet from which you make sandwiches and other deliciousnesses. Ours was fairly limited, due to having only three people eating. However, it did include pretty much everything people had bought at the farmstands in the past few days.

We had:
-summer sausage
-swiss cheese
-red romaine
-the first decent tomatoes
-brown porter mustard
-loaf of good wheat bread
-bowls of strawberries, grapes, and black cherries
-and the artichokes with vinaigrette.

Most of these things you just slice. The artichokes are a slightly different matter.

Artichokes are such a California thing in my head, it isn't even funny. When I was really little in San Jose we had an artichoke bush in the backyard, so I spent the first six years of my life being indoctrinated into the way of the artichoke. It is not very hard. John's dad had never had artichokes, though! So I set out to show exactly what to do with them.

Cooking artichokes is easy.

however many artichokes you want to eat
lemon juice

First, trim the artichokes. Cut off the stem at the base of the flower. You know artichokes are just big thistle blossoms, right? Eating flowers ten points! So, cut off the stem. Then cut off the top third or so of the blosson, where all the leaves come together hard and spiky. You can also trim the leaves down lower on the body of the artichoke, but it's not really necessary, since you don't eat the tops of them anyway. Throw the leaf bits away. If you want, you can peel and steam the stem with the artichoke; it's as edible as the heart and makes eating artichokes at all a bit more productive.

Bring a pot of water to a gentle simmer. Salt and lemon juice it up, then add the artichokes. You need the lemon juice so nothing turns brown and gross. If there's no lemon juice, a decent vinegar is ok. Then you can either steam the artichokes over the pot or just boil them. The time depends on the size of the artichokes. I let my tiny fresh farmstand ones go for about 25 minutes; the huge globe ones may need something like 45.

When they're done, you'll be able to smell them. Pick off a leaf and scrape the fleshy bottom through your teeth. Does it taste done? Then they are done. Get your artichokes out of the water with a slotted spoon, turning each upside down to drain into the pot on the way. You may want to squeeze them a little so as to avoid puddling later.

That is it. Now you eat your artichokes.

Eating artichokes: pull off a leaf and dip the fleshy end in whatever you like. You can use lemon juice, mayonnaise, melted butter, vinaigrette: whatever tastes good to you. I like vinaigrette best even though I grew up on mayo (GUH!). You can use bottled salad dressing or do what I did and make your own.


Put a 6:1 ratio of olive oil and white wine vinegar in a bowl/something whiskable with some salt, a lot of cracked black pepper, and some torn parsley. Add a little decent mustard if you like it. Whisk with a fork until it coagulates into tasty dressing.

Choke; no choke.

So. Dip the fleshy end of the petal into the vinaigrette. Scrape it between your teeth to get all the flesh off. Eat that part; discard the spiny petal. Repeat until all petals are gone and you are left with a little round piece with a bunch of feathery bits pointing inward. That's the choke: the undeveloped thistle blossom. Spoon out all of the choke; thistle blossoms hurt. You will be left with a little round shallow cup of artichoke. That's the heart. Eat it all, with more vinaigrette. Or you can collect them from everyone and mash them and make them into artichoke dip/something for later.

Then go on a four hour traffic-happy holiday weekend drive to Sacramento.