Artichoke and Asparagus Capellini – Simply Spring

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(Artichoke and Asparagus Capellini, with roasted garlic and tomatoes – recipe in post)

When I was a kid, artichokes were a special treat. We’d steam one for each of us, and melt a bit of butter with a squeeze of lemon, as though we were preparing for lobster. Then we’d sit down and gingerly pluck the petals, dipping them into the butter and savoring the tiny pocket of meat inside each one, until finally we got down to the hearts – the best part!

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Waiting for them to cook was always a test of patience – anticipation for the meal ahead of us. Such nostalgia as I stood cooking them in my own kitchen, lifting the lid all too often to see if they’re tender.

To this day, when I think of artichokes, all I can think of is simplicity. Butter and lemon, a pinch of salt, maybe. While this dish is certainly more complex than that, I was careful to keep the flavors light and easy, a reminder of spring and all her simple pleasures.

The combination of warm days and cool nights has asparagus and artichokes growing plentiful and sweet, spilling over in shops and farmer’s markets. Meanwhile, the addition of fresh basil and oven-roasted tomatoes tease the taste-buds of the summer ahead.

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(Capellini: literally, ‘Thin Hair’ in Italian)

This dish is easily adaptable – add a protein, like grilled chicken or shrimp, or make it vegan by replacing the butter and cheese with your favorite substitutes. Easily swap gluten-free pasta, or even the pasta for rice, quinoa, or other grain. If whole artichokes sound like too much work, feel free to use canned or jarred (in water, not pickled or marinated).

Artichoke and Asparagus Capellini
(Vegetarian, easily made Vegan and/or Gluten-Free)
Serves 4

1 lb. angel-hair pasta, cooked to al-dente and drained
3 artichokes (or half 12oz jar or can of artichoke hearts, drained)
1 lemon (divided in half)
1 head garlic, roasted (or 6-8 cloves fresh, minced)
1 lb. fresh asparagus
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
3/4 cup green or kalamata olives, pitted and halved (or substitute capers, if you like)
2 TBSP butter (or substitute)
2 TBSP olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup packed fresh basil, chopped
7-8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves of
Salt and Pepper to taste

Optional: Pecorino cheese (or parmesan, or feta, or goat cheese… whatever you like)

More butter and lemon juice, for dipping the artichoke leaves (if using whole artichokes)

Method:

For the artichokes (if using whole, fresh):
Rinse the artichokes under cool water, cut off the stems, and pull away the bottom and very outer layer of leaves – these are particularly tough. Cut off the top inch or so of the bulb, and squeeze 1/2 of the lemon over top. Rub the squeezed out lemon over the tops of the cut leaves to thoroughly cover them – this will help preserve their green color.
Set a large pot or Dutch oven with 1 1/2 – 2 inches of water over high heat. Season the water with a salt and pepper. Add the artichokes (stem side down) and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and steam the artichokes for 40-60 minutes, or until the leaves can be pulled off easily. Cooking time will vary depending on size, so check them early and often.
Once the artichokes are done steaming, let them cool slightly before peeling away the leaves. Set these in a bowl for later – the meat at the base of each leaf is delicious, and can be served on the side with a bowl of melted butter and lemon juice for dipping.
At the center of the artichoke there will be a cone of small purple leaves – these are very tough. Beneath the leaves you’ll find a bundle of stringy thistle hair. This is the choke. Using a spoon or a knife, scrape the choke from the base of the artichoke and discard it. The remainder is the heart – the most tender and meaty part. Cut the hearts into quarters or eightths, and set aside.

For the garlic:
While the artichokes are steaming, roast (or simply mince) the garlic. To roast, preheat the oven to 400f.
Cut off the top of the bulb, to reveal all of the cloves. Drizzle about a TBSP of olive oil over the top, and wrap in a ball of aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet or into a muffin tin, and roast for 30-40 minutes.
Let cool before removing the foil. The cloves should squeeze easily from their shells like butter. Run your knife through to make a paste, and set aside.

For the vegetables:
Reduce the oven temperature to 300f.
Trim the asparagus, and slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread in an even layer on a foil covered baking sheet, and roast for 8-10 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender.

For the pasta:
Cook pasta in boiling, salted water, until al-dente. Drain.

In a large skillet or saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the olive oil and garlic, letting the garlic saute if using raw. Add the artichoke hearts, asparagus, tomatoes, olives, and the juice of half the lemon. Stir until evenly heated. Toss in the pasta and fresh herbs, and season to taste with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly grated cheese, if desired.

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Where’s a bottle of wine when you need one?

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19 Responses to Artichoke and Asparagus Capellini – Simply Spring

  1. Courtney J April 6, 2012 at 4:01 am #

    This looks soooo delicious! I love artichokes, olives, asparagus and fresh basil. It’s like a dish encompassing all my favourite things! :) I’ve not had a fresh artichoke in quite some time. But, I too would just put some butter, salt, pepper and squeeze of lemon juice on mine. I’ll have to pop by the store this weekend to see if I can find some fresh artichokes. Sounds so yummy :)

    • Willow April 8, 2012 at 2:19 am #

      Wonderful! Please let me know what you think if try this recipe. :D

  2. Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes April 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Mmmmm a perfect spring lunch, loving the light flavors and I adore fresh artichokes, they are so worth the little extra time.

    The picture of the steaming pasta is incredible!

    • Willow April 8, 2012 at 2:20 am #

      Thanks! It’s actually cheese being grated onto the pasta, but I didn’t have enough lighting to capture it… slow shutter speed. I liked the effect, though. :)

  3. Kat April 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    Steamed artichokes are one of my favorites, although for me the exercise in patience is pulling off each leaf as all I want to do is get to the heart!

    I’ve been trying to vegetarianize our pasta dishes (I think I just made up a word), and artichokes will certainly make it more filling. I love the “snow” effect of the grated cheese.

    • Willow April 8, 2012 at 2:21 am #

      Yeah – I’ve seen chefs just tear off all of the leaves before cooking. That makes the cook time mush shorter, and viola, you have nothing but the heart.

      I really enjoyed this as a vegetarian dish – light enough for lunch, but definitely hearty enough for a solid dinner.

  4. Eileen April 6, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    When I was little, we had an artichoke bush in the backyard! So I learned to eat an artichoke at about age two or three, and, unsurprisingly, I still love them. This combination sounds great! Roasted mixed Mediterranean veg and pasta–it’s perfect. :)

    • Willow April 8, 2012 at 2:22 am #

      How wonderful! I’m jealous of your artichoke bush. :)

  5. Jen @ Juanita's Cocina April 6, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

    Simply gorgeous Willow!

    Do you know that I’ve never made an artichoke from its raw state? Ever!

    I’ve been deprived!

    Pinned dahling. Because I want people to drool as much as I have…

    • Willow April 8, 2012 at 2:23 am #

      Haha – thank you so much, Jen. Your comments always make me laugh. And thanks for the pin! :D

  6. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar April 7, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    This looks heavenly! Love this idea!!

  7. Mal April 9, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    Looks wonderful! I am an artichoke fiend

    Mal @ The Chic Geek

    • Willow April 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      Hehe – thank you!

  8. From Valeries Kitchen April 11, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    I love the flavors in this – artichokes, garlic, lemon, and the Kalamata olives put it over the top!

  9. Carole April 19, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Hi there, this is a really nice post about asparagus. It would be great if you linked to it in my Food on Friday series. This week it is about all things asparagus. Food on Friday

    • Willow April 21, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

      Thanks for inviting me to the round-up! I linked. :D

    • Carole April 21, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

      The link worked just fine. Thanks for doing it.

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