Sunday, June 3, 2012

Artichoke Bottoms with Mascarpone and Smoked Salmon

A few years ago in the end of May or beginning of June my neighbours received a large shipment of artichokes from California and organized an artichoke party. They served a lovely lunch in their scenic backyard with artichokes accompanied by California white.

I enjoyed that event very much as, until then, I had not eaten artichokes too often. But I have never fully appreciated the hosts effort until I bought fresh artichokes myself and decided to make an artichoke dish from scratch.

Working with artichokes is messy and not too economical as only their inner parts are edible. They have to be fresh and young to be really good and they quickly change their color if not treated with lemon juice.

At first, I was planning to make an artichoke salad using their hearts but unfortunately they seemed not soft enough so I decided to use only their bottoms. At the end, only a very small part was left from a fairly large artichoke flower. After a lot of cutting I extracted only six modest bottoms.

I cooked them and decided to stuff them with a delicate filling not to overshadow their delicate taste. I also decided to serve them as a dinner starter rather than a main dish. This way only one or two could make the whole portion.

Now, after my experience with preparing artichokes from the scratch, I understand why they are considered such a delicacy and are served by the best and most experience chefs. Last month, an artichoke salad was on a 40 thousand dollars dinner menu which Wolfgang Puck prepared at George Clooney's home during the fundraising dinner for President Obama.

And here is my idea how to serve artichokes if you are not afraid to work with them.

Artichoke Bottoms with Mascarpone and Smoked Salmon
(Serves six)

6 large or 12 small artichokes,
6 oz mascarpone cheese at room temperature,
2 oz smoked salmon slices,
juice from two lemons,
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
3 tbsp chopped chives,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Cut the upper halves of the artichokes and the stems off.

2. Using a small sharp knife peel off outer leaves until you get into the solid bottom.

3. Using a spoon or a grapefruit knife remove all the soft and fuzzy parts from the artichoke's core until you get just the clean bottoms

4. Place them in water with lemon juice while working with the rest of them to prevent discoloring.
5. In a medium pot bring to boil water with a tbsp of salt and two tbsp of lemon juice. Put the artichoke bottoms in and cook the for 8-10 minutes, until soft. Drain them and let them cool down.
6. In a small bowl mix mascarpone cheese with salt and pepper. Divide the cheese evenly among artichokes.
7. Cut salmon in small, square pieces. Put on top of mascarpone.
8. In a another small bowl mix olive oil and two tbsp lemon juice. Add chopped chives, salt and pepper. Mix the dressing and pour over the filled in artichokes.

Serve with baguette or  white bread.

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