June 13, 2013

Marcella Hazan's Artichoke Lasagne

We both love artichokes, but for quite a long time we were intimidated by the prospect of actually cooking them. When I was a kid, my parents used to steam large artichokes that we would eat by plucking off each leaf, dipping it in lemon butter, and scraping off the good parts with our teeth, and discarding the rest. The best part was getting to the heart, where once you scraped of the choke you could just bite into artichoke deliciousness. 

While I always enjoyed those artichokes, Michael and I haven't felt that making them would be worth the effort for something that was just an appetizer. We wanted to eat a lot of artichoke, all together. Once we got baby artichokes, thinking that they would be easier to deal with, but they really weren't, and came out tasting quite bitter. Then we discovered this lasagne recipe from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Marcella explains quite clearly how to break down large artichokes to prep to steam them so that you get a good volume of usable artichoke. Then she has you mix the artichokes with béchamel and layer them with sheets of fresh pasta and parmesan. The resulting dish is an absolutely perfect vehicle for the artichokes. So simple - like a haiku. In fact, it has inspired me to write some artichoke haiku. 

Lovely artichokes!
Béchamel and fresh pasta
Make spring perfection.

Spiky artichokes!
I'm not afraid of your thorns.
I will eat you up.

March 25, 2013

Fava and Fresh Mozzarella Panini

Considering that we've been living in the East Bay for more than five years and in our current house for almost three, you'd think we'd have gotten used to the way the seasons work around here. Even so, we're still surprised every year when the cherry trees in our neighborhood start blooming in early to mid-February. It always feels like we just recently started grumbling about the end of summer, which also seems to catch us by surprise every year. I sometimes feel that Thanksgiving and the whole "holiday season" that follows are all some kind of trick to distract us with food and celebration so that we forgot to mourn the end of the wonderful warm weather and summer produce. It's not a bad trick, anyway, and it seems to have propelled us all the way through winter, so that here we are at the other end. We've started our annual asparagus binge (we ate it nearly every day last week), and spent all day Saturday working in our garden (before we came inside to eat asparagus - along with our poached chicken with tarragon cream sauce and a delicious blueberry crisp -  for dinner). 

So, here we are, emerging from a bit of a hibernation on our blog with a fresh, green sandwich filled with another harbinger* of spring - the fava bean. It took us a while to shell those two pounds of beans, and then remove their skins, but it was totally worth it. Make this lunch on a weekend when you have a bit of time. We put favas on the sandwiches in two forms: a purée with parmesan and olive oil, and just fresh and simple. We topped all that off with a bright, chopped salsa verde and fresh mozzarella. Happy spring!