Ooooh, spring is in the air! Days here are turning just a bit warmer and although still chilly, my thoughts turn to the delectable bounty of food that will soon be in the markets….including my favorite, spring artichokes. And although artichokes can now be found in the market year round, the fresh spring crop has that extra spring in its step (pun intended ). The April issue of La Cucina Italiana features an article on these wonderful treats and after scanning my issue, was craving some creamy artichoke goodness for dinner last eve. But first a bit of artichoke lore…
Did you know that Marilyn Monroe was the first official California Artichoke Queen in 1949? Or that cultivated artichokes first appeared in Sicily having originated with the Moors in North Africa? Or that in Greek mythology good ole Zeus turned his mistress Cynara into an artichoke plant for resisting his efforts? (Ouch.) And my favorite – artichokes were banned in New York for a brief time during the 1920s by Mayor La Guardia during the mafia ‘artichoke’ wars. It was all due to one Ciro Terranova ‘Whitey’, a well known mafia member aka the ‘Artichoke King’, terrorizing the artichoke distributors and produce merchants thereby making big profits off the artichoke market. Aw, my little prickly friend – what a storied past!
But although you may fear our mafia friend, Ciro, do not fear our little artichokes! They actually are quite easy to clean and if you use frozen artichokes, as I did for this recipe, even easier. I adapted one of the recipes in La Cucina Italiana to use frozen artichoke hearts along with a few other modifications. This was a quick recipe to pull together – dinner was on the table in about 30 minutes. Enjoy!
Carciofi Gratinati con Ragu di Pollo (Artichoke and Chicken Gratin)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound of ground chicken
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pound of frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional)
3 1/2 cups chicken broth, divided
1/4 cup marsala wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large saute pan to hold chicken and artichokes, 1 small saucepan, 1 oven-proof casserole dish, 1 small bowl
1. In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add in the ground chicken and cook. Stir frequently, breaking into small bits, with a wooden spoon. Saute until browned – about 5 minutes. Remove chicken to a small bowl. Set aside.
2. In the same pan, add the onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes until soft. Add in the artichoke hearts, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (if using). Cook until the artichoke hearts start to brown at the edges – about 4 minutes. Add the cooked chicken back into the pan with any juices. Stir to incorporate.
3. Add in 1 1/2 cups of the chicken broth, wine and lemon juice. Gently simmer until reduced to about 1/2 cup and the artichokes are tender – about 15-20 minutes.
4. Transfer mixture to a 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Heat the oven to broil.
5. In the small saucepan, bring the remaining 2 cups of broth to a simmer and remove from heat. In the same sauté pan as the chicken/artichoke mixture, heat the butter over low heat until melted. Add in the flour and stir constantly with a wooden spoon – about 1 1/2 minutes.
6. Slowly whisk in the hot broth. Increase the heat to medium and stir constantly until the sauce thickens – about 1 minute.
7. Pour the sauce over the artichoke/chicken mixture. Mix gently.
8. Broil the gratin until the top is lightly browned – about 5 minutes. Buon Appetito!