Crispy Baby Artichokes

Artichokes originated in the Mediterranean and have been grown for over two thousand years. Edible, immature flowers of a cultivated thistle, artichokes produce crops twice a year — from March through May and August through October. As Sicily is believed to be the actual birthplace of these edible flowers, artichokes have been an essential part of the Italian diet for years. In Italy, young artichokes are eaten raw dipped in extra virgin olive oil, or fried whole in olive oil.

My husband and I recently tasted the baby artichokes “alla romana” at Osteria, a new Italian taverna opened by the owners of Vetri. Cooked slowly in olive oil with rosemary and garlic, the artichokes were, for me at least, the highlight of the evening.

Baby artichokes are the small buds that grow on side shoots off the central stem of the large plants and currently can be found at the market. Unlike the large globe artichokes, the tender small ones have no fuzzy inedible choke and are easier to prepare than the large. Served with a little salt and lemon, these crispy and caramelized little buds make a wonderful appetizer.

Osteria-Inspired Artichokes
Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 lemon, halved
15 baby artichokes
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
2 sprigs rosemary
4 cloves garlic, lightly smashed

Fill a large bowl with cold water and squeeze half the lemon into it. Cut off the rough spiky tops of the artichokes and peel away leaves until the pale green leaves are exposed. With a paring knife, cut off very bottom of stem and peel dark green layer off sides of stem. Repeat with each one, dropping each cleaned artichoke into the prepared acidulated water.
In a medium, deep heavy pot, add ½ cup water, the oil, salt, rosemary and garlic. Place over medium-high heat until oil and water mixture begins to bubble. Add the artichokes. Reduce heat to medium, cover and let cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove cover, and increase heat to medium-high. Let the artichokes cook undisturbed until the bottom side begins to turn golden brown and get crispy. Once nicely colored, flip artichokes and cook until second side becomes similarly golden-brown.
When artichokes are crisped all over, remove with slotted spoon, sprinkle with salt to taste and serve with remaining half lemon.

Traditional Dumplings for the Chinese New Year

This past weekend celebrators of the Chinese New Year welcomed the Year of the Pig while consuming crescent-shaped steamed dumplings. The dumplings, or jiaozi, resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots and symbolize prosperity and good fortune. By eating the jiaozi at midnight, New Year’s participants hope to transfer wealth from the previous year into the next. The dumplings are traditionally steamed or boiled, as described below, but can be prepared as potstickers as well. While the initial celebrations have ended, many days remain in this two-week long Spring Festival to enjoy these tasty treats. For a fun, simple Oscar Night hors d’oeuvre, steam the jiaozi and serve with the scallion dipping sauce. Enjoy!

New Year’s Eve Dumplings
Yield = 30 Dumplings

3 cups minced Napa cabbage
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ lb ground pork
5 scallions, minced
4 teaspoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
freshly ground pepper to taste
24 round dumpling wrappers

Scallion Dipping Sauce
Yield = ½ cup

¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon hot chili sauce or Sriracha
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Toss the cabbage with the salt in a colander set over a bowl. Let sit 20 minutes. Meanwhile, mix pork, scallions, soy, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, egg whites and pepper. After the 20 minutes, gently squeeze the moisture out of the cabbage using a rubber spatula, then add to pork mixture. Mix thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: combine all ingredients except the scallions. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Add the scallions just before serving.

Fill a large, wide-mouthed pot with water and bring to a boil. Lightly dust a cookie sheet with flour. Fill a small bowl with water. Lay 5 wrappers on a work surface. Keep the remaining wrappers covered with plastic wrap. Place one tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper. Using your fingertip moisten the edge of one wrapper with water. Fold the wrapper in half. Pinch the center and work toward the outside edges, pressing out air pockets. When dumpling is sealed, place on floured pan and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Repeat with remaining dumplings.
When all the dumplings are prepared, add 8-10 to the boiling water. Make sure none is sticking to the bottom of the pan—use a rubber spatula to release dumplings from bottom of pan if necessary. Boil for 4 minutes, check one, and cook for 1-2 minutes longer if necessary. Times will vary depending on the size of the pot and how many dumplings are being cooked at one time.
Remove dumplings from water with slotted spoon or spider, and let drain and dry briefly before serving. Serve with Scallion Dipping Sauce.