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TASTE News Service, March 17, 2020 - Heart of the matter: Most baby vegetables are just that: infant versions of their adult selves.

Leave baby zucchini on the vine and you will soon have a baseball bat. Not so with “baby” artichokes. They aren’t really babies. They’re not even adolescents. They are full-grown veggies, ready to pare down, cook up and serve. They live at the base of each plant, where they don’t get much sun; the jumbo artichokes are the ones on top. So, while the babies never grow big and plump, they also never get tough. Connoisseurs seek out these tender green buds, especially in spring when California’s artichoke harvest spikes.

California isn’t just the nation’s top artichoke producer; the state grows just about all of the commercial crop, mostly on the cool Central Coast. Artichokes enjoy that refreshing breeze off the Pacific Ocean as much as winegrapes do. Workers pick and pack artichokes right in the field, so the chokes don’t get bruised in transport.

Whether babies or big guys, artichokes should feel firm, not squishy, and heavy for their size. The little ones (under 2 oz/55 g) are easy to prep because they don’t have a hairy choke. Toss them with pasta or make a spring vegetable stew with baby artichoke hearts, English peas, fava beans and prosciutto. With grilled lamb chops and a bottle of California Cabernet Sauvignon, you’re ready for guests.

Pappardelle with Artichokes, Peas, and Prosciutto

Serves 4

This pasta dish is perfectly wine friendly thanks to an assist from pasta, sweet peas and meaty prosciutto. Chill a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and prove it to yourself. If you can’t find fresh baby artichokes, substitute frozen artichoke hearts rather than marinated hearts.

Ingredients

  • ¾ pound (340 g) fresh pappardelle or fresh egg pasta sheets or ½ pound (225 g) dried pappardelle
  • 14 to 16 fresh baby artichokes, about 1-1/2 ounces (40 g) each, or 1 package (9 oz/ 250 g) frozen artichoke hearts (see Note)
  • 1 lemon
  • 6 tablespoons (90 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, minced
  • Pinch hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 sprig fresh mint
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 1 cup (150 g) shelled English peas or frozen petite peas, thawed enough to separate
  • 2 ounces (55 g) thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma, shredded by hand
  • Freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Directions

If using fresh egg pasta sheets, start at one of the sheet’s narrow ends and loosely roll the sheet like a jelly roll, leaving a 1-inch (2.5-cm) tail. With a sharp chef’s knife, cut ribbons about 5/8-inch (15-mm) wide. Grab the noodles by the exposed ends, lift them up, and they will unfurl. Repeat with the remaining sheets.

If using fresh baby artichokes: Fill a large bowl with water and add the juice of the lemon. To trim the artichokes, peel back the outer leaves until they break off at the base. Keep removing leaves until you reach the pale green heart. Cut across the top of the heart to remove the pointed leaf tips. If the stem is still attached, cut it down to ½ inch (1.25-cm), then trim the stem and base to remove any dark green or brown parts. Cut each heart in half and cut each half into 2 to 3 wedges, depending on size. Immediately place in the lemon water to prevent browning.

If using frozen artichoke hearts, thaw, cut each heart in half, then cut each half into 2 to 3 wedges, depending on size.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and hot pepper flakes and sauté until the onion is soft and sweet, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat if needed to keep the onion from browning. Add artichokes to the skillet (drained first, if fresh) along with the mint sprig, 1 cup (250 ml) water, and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the artichokes are almost tender, 10 to 15 minutes. There should still be several spoonsful of flavorful juices in the skillet. Remove the mint sprig.

Cook fresh or frozen peas in the boiling water until tender, then lift them out with a sieve and add them to the artichokes along with the prosciutto. (Do not discard the boiling water; you will need it to cook the pasta.) The sauce should be juicy; if it seems too dry, add a splash of boiling water from the pot. Taste for salt and keep warm.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and boil until al dente. Fresh pasta will take only 1 to 2 minutes, depending on freshness. For dried pasta, consult cooking time on the package. Just before draining, set aside 1 cup of the hot pasta water. Drain the pasta and return it to the warm pot. Add the contents of the skillet and toss gently with tongs, adding a little of the reserved pasta water if the sauce seems dry. Add 1/3 cup (25 g) of grated cheese, toss gently, and immediately divide the pasta among 4 bowls. Pass additional cheese at the table for those who want it.

Editor’s note: The introduction to baby artichokes and the recipe above were produced by Wine Institute, the trade association that represents much of California’s wine industry. Taste California Travel has a long-time love of artichokes and while we haven’t tested this recipe yet, it looks good to us. Wine Institute recommends pairing the Pappardelle with Artichoke, Peas and Prosciutto dish with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay (from California, of course). We concur.

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