Artichokes, artichokes, artichokes. When I asked people in the July classes what they wanted to do in August, the answer was artichokes.
Everybody was interested in learning about how to prepare artichokes and different dishes that could be made with them.
Artichokes are very popular in New Orleans. I've been dealing with them a long time, and since they are popular in the Big Easy, I was all on board too.
In our classes, we used artichoke hearts from cans as well as fresh artichokes from the produce section. We were all able to see how labor-intensive cleaning an artichoke can be. Most people made an instant decision that the cans sure were easier.
One of the dishes we made was a particular favorite of mine. It's one we have at home from time to time. I call it artichoke rice.
It's simple to make really. I use basmati rice because of its great flavor and aroma.
The dish uses cooked rice along with onion, garlic and red pepper. Along with salt and pepper, oregano is the seasoning herb. That's all it takes.
After the rice is done, add in artichoke hearts and that's it. The dish has a great fragrance and is warming and filling. It can be a main course, or a little cooked chicken or shrimp can be added for more substance.
An uncooked sauce
A recipe I created for class was artichoke pesto.
I looked around for some ideas on this after I wrote the recipe draft. Everything I found was not what I wanted the dish to be. I wanted to have the same approach as traditional pesto - an uncooked sauce. That's how we did it.
All it takes is fresh basil ground in your food processor with a little olive oil and salt. Also coarsely grind some artichoke hearts from a can. To this add finely chopped fresh garlic plus lemon juice and zest. We spikes ours with a few chopped capers and some red pepper flakes.
Now it was time for grated parmesan. The real thing - Parmigiano Reggiano. Plenty of it. Don't compromise. And get a large enough piece that it's not all rind.
Mix in some hot pasta will a little of the cooking water. Stir until well combined. Add more parmesan or olive oil as needed. Simple and so tasty. Looks good too. Artichoke pesto.
At Jimmy’s, we used to serve artichoke soup. We made that same dish in class.
The secret to the texture is potatoes. There’s onion and garlic. The herb to season is thyme. Add some half and half and you've got it. It's a good rich soup dance equally enjoyable hot, room temperature or cold.
‘Worth the trouble’
We had stopped along the way and cleaned three artichokes. We cut them in half and also quarters. After cleaning, we put them in water with lemon. This helps hold the color of the artichoke, and they don't turn brown.
Now it was time to work with those. Our dish was roasted artichokes.
We coated them with olive oil, salt and pepper before putting in a baking pan loosely covered with foil. We put them in a 375-degree oven. After 30 minutes, we finished them uncovered.
We slathered them with melted garlic butter flavored with rosemary. They were mighty good. As one person said, “May be worth the trouble to clean them after all.”
We felt there was no better way to finish our afternoon than with the salad. This is a good trick, especially in summer. You go away from a meal satisfied and felling light.
First, you make dressing. It was a simple vinaigrette that used red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard along with olive oil, salt and pepper. Remix with halved Kalamata olives, grape tomatoes and baby artichoke hearts. Herb of choice was chives, and, of course we had some finally chopped garlic.
Will all that on top of our dressing, we folded together and let it sit just a few minutes. To serve put the salad on lettuce leaves and top with cubed feta cheese. Very simple. Very attractive. Plus, very good.
Our dishes we're different and so enjoyable. We had a fun time together and look forward to September. We're going to be exploring various ways to use rotisserie chicken in lots of dishes. Come join us.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident, a food, wine and restaurant consultant, and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.