Lidia Bastianich Knows Artichokes

Spring artichokes coincide with the first fresh mint of the season, and the arrival of the two are cause for excitement, particularly in and around Rome.

Lidia Bastianich just returned from Italy, brimming with great ideas about the versatile veggie.

Bastianich, author of "Lidia's Italy" and host of the PBS cooking show by the same name, visited The Early Show Friday with recipes for using artichoke in three different ways: in a salad, stuffed, and marinated.

She also had buying and prepping pointers.

BUYING

Artichokes should be firm, with a healthy green color- brownish streaks in the leaves indicate age. Hold an artichoke in your palm and make sure it is compact, not soft and loose. Two artichokes should squeak a little when rubbed together. Artichokes- for that matter any vegetable that have a stem-eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, carrots-should have the stems left on when shipped to market. The stem acts as a reserve food supply for the vegetable while it is on display to be sold at market. Look for and ask for vegetables with stems.

CLEANING AND TRIMMING

Stir lemon juice into a bowl with a quart of cold water. The acidulated water will keep the artichoke slices from discoloring after you cut them.

Work with one artichoke at a time: Trim off the thick outside leaves, until you reach the tender, pale inside leaves. Cut off the tough bottom of the stem but leave most of it (an inch or so) attached to globe. With a vegetable peeler or paring knife, peel off the outer skin of the short stem, exposing the fresh layer underneath.

Next, cut straight across the pointed top of the artichoke, removing the tips of the leaves. Drop the trimmed artichoke into the acidulated water and trim the rest of them in this way, submerging them all in the bowl.

RECIPES

Celery and Artichoke Salad with Shavings of GRANA PADANO


Celery is often underappreciated as a principal salad ingredient. The inner stalks of the head have a wonderful freshness, flavor, and delicacy when thinly sliced. Here I've paired them with fresh baby artichoke slices in a salad with lots of bright, subtle flavors and all kinds of crunch. Shards of hard cheese - either Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano lend even more complexity to the mix.

Use only firm and very small artichokes for this: they should feel tight and almost squeak when you squeeze them and they should have no choke.

INGREDIENTS:
For 6 servings
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
1 quart of water
6 firm small artichokes, no wider than 3-inches wide
8 to 12 tender celery stalks with leaves, from the inner part of the head (about 10 ounces)

For the Dressing
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
3/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
A chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, 1/4 pound or more

METHOD:
Trimming the Artichokes and Celery
Stir the lemon juice into a bowl with a quart of cold water. The acidulated water will keep the artichoke slices from discoloring after you cut them.
Work with one artichoke at a time: Trim off the thick outside leaves, until you reach the tender, pale inside leaves. Cut off the tough bottom of the stem but leave most of it (an inch or so) attached to globe. With a vegetable peeler or paring knife, peel off the outer skin of the short stem, exposing the fresh layer underneath.
Next, cut straight across the pointed top of the artichoke, removing the tips of the leaves. Drop the trimmed artichoke into the acidulated water and trim the rest of them in this way, submerging them all in the bowl.

To prepare the celery, trim off the wide end of the celery stalks and pick off the leaves, reserving only the tender pale leaves. Peel the stalks if they're dark, tough or blemished. Slice each one on the diagonal, 1/8-inch thick, into delicate, translucent crescents. Chop the tender leaves and put all the celery - about 2 cups - into a large mixing bowl.

Making and Dressing the Salad
When you're ready to serve the salad, remove a trimmed artichoke from the lemon water and slice, from stem to top, in thin 1/8-inch slices; add the slices to the bowl. Quickly slice all the artichokes this way and toss the celery and artichoke slices together with the lemon juice, the olive oil and the salt.
With a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, shave about 2 dozen delicate large flakes of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano from the chunk of cheese: each shaving should be a couple of inches long and an inch or 2 inches wide.
Fold the shavings of cheese gently into the sliced vegetables. Taste and adjust dressing. Arrange the salad on a serving platter or portion on salad plates. Shave more flakes of cheese and scatter a dozen or more over the platter or place 3 or 4 on top of individual servings.

For more recipes, to go Page 2.

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