I really enjoy shopping at the market just after winter and before the explosion of fresh ingredients arrive in the heat of spring. I think this period is quite interesting – especially in Switzerland where it is very simple to find products coming from the southern part of Italy. And when I shop…I get inspired to come up with something very fresh and very quick!
During my latest trip to the market, I was inspired by the selection of Italian artichokes, which were both large and small. They are especially good right now and perfect to prepare in so many ways. I elected to use the carciofini (the small ones, which are fully mature, just smaller because they grow on the bottom part of the plant), because they are really tender at the moment. It may seem like you are removing too much of the small artichoke, but in reality, the entire flower is edible. I just remove the outer 1-2 layers and any green bits that remain…as well as those nasty little stickers. I also ran across some delightfully large artichokes with very long stems still attached – a gold mine for those in the know! I really enjoy eating the artichoke marrow which is easily revealed by trimming away the outer part of the stem. The flavor is very similar to the heart and a part of the artichoke which is usually discarded…at least outside of Italy (Italians are always clever in finding the tastiest bits of food).
Fresh broad beans, or otherwise referred to as fava beans, always seem to make their first appearance toward the latter part of February. They are a must-use ingredient to Italians around Easter, which is why they are so prevalent. The early season beans are so tender, they actually do not require any cooking, but I find them too bitter if eaten raw so I give them a 3-4 minute bath in boiling water to soften their skins. Of course, I do remove the outer skin again, which makes a 1 kg. pile of broad beans turn into a small bowl of actual product. Still, I love the fresh spring flavor and I like to include them in quick sautéed dishes.
Finally, Italian tomatoes are an absolute must beginning now and lasting for the next couple of months. Sicilian tomatoes ripen early and are at their peak during the months of March and April. It is simply too hot during the summer months, so these tomatoes vanish quickly. Pay special attention to anything coming from the Sicilian region called Pachino. These are the real gems and you will discover (perhaps re-discover) what a tomato should taste like!
Once my shopping was complete, I just went to work preparing the various items and allowed my inspired spirit to take over…a spirit which is happily living in sunny Italy during the cold and dreary times of late winter in Switzerland.
Roasted Carciofini, artichoke marrow, broad beans and wilted tomatoes
makes enough for 4-6 servings
500 gr. carciofini (small artichokes)
4 large artichoke stems
1 lemon, cut in half
1 kg. fresh broad beans
about 12 small tomatoes
Begin by preparing the small artichokes. Remove the outer layers of the small artichokes until the leaf color changes to a more purple color – this is usually 1-2 layers. Remove the top and bottom of the artichoke, making sure to keep as much of the stem intact as possible. Trim off any green parts of the artichoke, then cut in half lengthwise. Coat with lemon. Add all of the prepared carciofini to a pot, cover with water and add a good squeeze of lemon. Cover and bring to a boil, then season with salt. Keep covered for 4 minutes while the artichokes cook. Remove from the heat and strain well. Once the artichokes are cooled, coat them well with olive oil and roast in a 230° C oven for about 15 minutes – the edges should just be turning black. Remove and reserve. Next, prepare the artichoke stems by cutting into 6-cm pieces, then trimming away the outer part of the stem to reveal the artichoke marrow. Cook the marrow in salted water with lemon juice (use the same water you used to prepare the small artichokes), making sure the pot is covered. The marrow will be cooked in about 20 minutes or so…they should be soft enough for a knife to easily penetrate them. Remove and reserve. Now…work on the broad beans. Remove all of the beans from their shells. Cook in salted water for 3 minutes, then remove to cold water. Each bean has another shell or outer coating which should also be removed. Pinch off one end and simply squeeze out the green bean inside – they may split into two, but that’s not a problem. Ok, put the final dish together. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the artichoke marrow and about 1 Tbl. of olive oil, then cook them for a few minutes until they begin to color. Add the prepared carciofini and broad beans, season with salt and add the tomatoes. Cook for about 2 minutes until the tomatoes just begin to wilt. Remove and enjoy!