I find myself getting choked up over quite a few things these days. Sad movies. Sappy songs. Snow in April. Folding laundry. Bad grammar. Especially bad grammar. If your looking to choke me up immediately, its quite easy to do, simply by misusing a few common words. The list could go on and on and on. Lately, something else has been eating away at me. More specifically, I’ve been choked up about something in the culinary realm. I’m trying to figure out how after nearly three decades on this great spinning planet, I’ve only just now begun to realize the wonders and versatility of the almighty artichoke! In my opinion, that’s absolutely something to be choked up about. We are going to resist the urge to be saddened by this revelation. Instead, we are going to embrace the versatility of this awesome ingredient and appreciate the ways that it can enhance our endeavors in the kitchen. Are you with me? Good. Now let’s get in their and cook! (The grammar, again! My heart can’t take it! Bad artichoke pun? Save me from myself!)
There are a few occasions when I think it’s perfectly acceptable to use frozen vegetables. In fact, these frozen veggies can sometimes be the best bargains in the entire store. Let’s welcome our friend, the artichoke. They may appear to be a bit intimidating in the produce section. They seem to stare down at you from behind the endive and eggplant with menacing and holier-than-thou glances. You might find yourself avoiding eye contact, sheepishly casting looks to the baby red potatoes and green beans. You might even find yourself being drawn by the calling of the carrots and cauliflower, as they gently persuade you to take the more familiar, well-traveled culinary path. However, you look back up at the artichokes. Desperately wanting to conquer your fears, you reach out a hand to grab one, but then…
The Taste Bud is here to save you! I swoop in Superman style, wearing a muscle shirt embroidered with the letters TB, that quite effectively draws attention to my non-existent muscles, while my cape flaps in the breeze. As a crowd gathers to stare at this spectacle you suddenly feel a wave of calmness washing over you, as you snicker at this cape-wearing string bean of a superhero. You realize that there is no need to bother with these time-intensive fresh artichokes. Luckily, at most major grocery stores, someone has done most of the work for you. Not only have they done most of the work, it’s going to end up saving you tons of money in the long run. I scoop you up in one arm and we take flight, landing a few dozen yards away in the promised land – the frozen foods section. Right in front of us, we have none other than the frozen artichoke!
They don’t seem nearly as cocky now that we have put them on ice. Although these hearts may be frozen, my heart is nice and warm when I think about all of the time and money I’m saving by buying these already prepared artichoke hearts. For a mere $3.00 a bag, I still assert that this is one of the best bargains in the entire store. Still, there’s a looming question and it’s a question that must be addressed. What are we going to make with these artichoke hearts? I propose a pesto of prodigious proportions. A pesto that will allow our artichoke hearts to shine, with little effort on our part. What’s not to like about that? Now it’s time for you to be the superhero!
For your artichoke pesto, you’ll need:
1 12 oz. bag of frozen artichoke hearts
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
1/2 cup of basil leaves
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of grated garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
To start, cook your frozen artichoke hearts according to the directions on the bag. Mine called for about five minutes in the microwave. When they’ve done their time in the microwave, open up that bag and let the goodness spill out into your kitchen. The artichoke hearts have a subtle citrus flavor that will pair up nicely with the lemon in this recipe.
Here’s what they look like after cooking. Now our frozen hearts have become warm and friendly. Again, you won’t believe how much time and money you’re saving by going the frozen route here. Who wants to be boiling and peeling artichokes in the kitchen all day? Not this Taste Bud. Place your artichokes in a food processor and get ready to add the other ingredients.
Place your sweet basil leaves on top of the artichoke hearts. Now grab your grater and get ready to use some elbow grease!
Let’s get the zest off of that lemon and grate the garlic. By the zest, I’m referring to the outermost part of the lemon. You only want the yellow part. If you start getting into the white part of the lemon, you’ve grated too far! The yellow part of the lemon has such a bright, vibrant flavor since it contains many of the essential oils. These essential oils will flavor your pesto very nicely and accentuate the citrus notes already possessed by the artichoke.
The zest will look like this when you’re finished. These tiny little flecks of yellow are the fruits of your labor for all of that grating. Even though it doesn’t look like much, the flavor power it packs will be very noticeable and quite appreciated by your taste buds. Toss that in your food processor and then give your lemon a nice squeeze, releasing all of its tart juices into the mixture. Toss in the grated garlic and add the grated Parmesan cheese.
The Parmesan cheese will give this pesto a big, salty bite. Plus, Parmesan makes everything taste better. Now give a hearty helping of salt and pepper. You could also add some toasted nuts, like almonds or pine nuts if you so desired. I’ve opted to leave the nuts out for now, because I’m feeling nutty enough, thank you very much.
With all of your ingredients in the food processor, give the whole shooting match a big blend. As everything is getting processed, drizzle in your two tablespoons of olive oil, which will thin the pesto out a bit, while giving it a glistening sheen. After about 30-45 seconds of processing, turn off the machine. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and then process a bit more.
Presto, you have pesto! Between you and me, I’d been waiting this entire blog to use that line. All of the ingredients will be super tiny and everything will be mixed perfectly. Overall, this pesto will have a distinct citrus flavor, but the basil balances that out with some subtle sweetness. What you do with your pesto is up to you. I recommend mixing in a healthy dollop with your favorite pasta. Of course, adding some plump, juicy shrimp on top never hurt anybody.
This pesto pasta is sure to make your taste buds sing. Remember the intimidation you were feeling back in the grocery store as you eyed those artichokes in the produce section? Who is laughing now? You are. You showed those artichokes who the real boss is. You didn’t succumb to the artichoke’s evil glances. You overcame and conquered a bunch of frozen hearts and warmed them up into a pesto pasta masterpiece.
What should you do with the leftovers of your creation? I decided to top some tiny pieces of toast with my leftover pesto and serve them up as an appetizer the next day. I sliced a few pieces off of a fresh baguette and drizzled the tops with olive oil.
Placing these pieces of bread under the broiler for just a few moments will turn them a golden brown color. Then smear a tablespoon of your pesto on the bread and serve!
What a quick and easy appetizer. Hopefully by this point, you’re no longer feeling intimidated by those daunting vegetables over in the produce section. Hopefully you’re feeling empowered. You are the master of your own culinary destiny. No need to get choked up. It’s time to get pumped up and come up with even more uses for this underutilized ingredient! What’s your favorite way to use artichokes? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section!
There is one more tiny thing that continues to choke me up. That one tiny thing would be Monday. That’s today. Drat.
Happy artichoke eating,
The Taste Bud