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!
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.
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)
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)
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.