Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Artichoke Panzanella

Oh, artichokes. These prickly thistles are one of my absolute favorites. I know they're not universally adored -- it's hard to love a food that can draw blood -- but their grassy-yet-sweet flavor is like nothing else. I adore them steamed with lemon-butter, or roasted until the sugars caramelize and become sweeter still. But until now, I really haven't cooked with them that much. Sure, I've tossed marinated hearts into salads (including a couscous salad that's become a potluck favorite), or heated them into a deliciously retro creamy dip. But that was about it, until I tried this recipe.

I first spied this on a blog a few years ago, where the cook's husband proclaimed it the best thing she ever did. How do you argue with that? I filed it away in my bookmarks, and there it sat for years, gathering electronic dust on its electronic shelf. But recently I fell in love all over again with Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, and baked a smattering of loaves. After the first few weeks I wasn't able to keep pace, and one of the loaves staled on the counter, yielding the building block of panzanella (aka Italian bread salad). For this dish, the cubed bread is doused with olive oil and toasted, then combined with peppery arugula, grassy olives, shavings of aged cheese, and the ever-important artichokes. And how does it taste?

I'll be honest: it still hasn't unseated a simple steamed 'choke as my go-to method. How do you beat lemon-butter? But this panzanella is delicious in its own right -- the interplay of artichokes, bread, greens, cheese and olives yields a dish with a punch of flavor, and is simultaneously light yet substantial. I think its best role would be as a crazy elegant room temperature buffet or potluck contribution, allowing guests to enjoy the beauty of the artichoke without needing to fend off a protective hedge of thorns.

Artichoke Panzanella

adapted from Becks & Posh's adaptation of Annie Somerville's recipe from Everyday Greens, as interpreted by Jessica Lasky at Tante Marie's Cooking School. Whew!

4 artichokes
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
zest of 1 lemon
1 day-old (or older) loaf of rustic artisan-style crusty bread
~1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for artichokes and bread
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar (or a lesser amount of a stronger vinegar)
3/4 cup pitted green olives
1 large bunch arugula, washed and dried
4 oz aged sheep cheese, such as Manchego or Idiazabal, shaved with a vegetable peeler to make nice dramatic shards

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put a large pot of salted water to boil on the stove. Trim the artichokes -- if you haven't done this before, you can find handy tutorials here or here -- and cut into sixths. Toss the hearts in the water, and simmer until the artichokes are just tender (~10 minutes). You can flavor the simmering water with lemon juice, white wine, garlic, peppercorns, etc., but I've never found it makes too much of a difference. When the artichokes are done, drain and toss with the garlic, lemon zest, and ~1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside.

Cut the crust off the bread, and saw into hefty bite-sized cubes. Drizzle with a few tablespoons olive oil, and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the cubes on a baking tray, and place in the preheated oven until crisp and light golden (~10 minutes). Tip from pan into a large bowl.

In a small bowl mix the oil and vinegar with additional salt and pepper, and adjust to your taste. Pour the vinaigrette over the bread cubes, and add the artichoke hearts and olives and toss to combine. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes for the dressing to absorb. Add the arugula and cheese, toss again, and serve.


  1. I love panzanella and this sounds really good with the artichokes. I doubt I'd go to the trouble of steaming the chokes and then peeling them - would probably used canned hearts instead, which might affect the taste of this dish..

  2. I haven't yet tried this with canned hearts, but I imagine it would work quite well (and also be easier to fit into a weeknight cooking). Marinated hearts would probably fit in nicely to the vinaigrette flavor of the salad.