Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

April 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


Why am I grouping these two vegetables? They both are abundant in the spring, and they have similar flavor profiles (their chemistries are quite different, but both vegetables are highly acidic, and contain abundant antioxidants, especially cynarin in artichokes and glutathione and rutin in asparagus). These diverse compounds register on the palate as "bitter," and that has to be factored into recipe design, which I have done for you!

I developed this basic sauce specifically for artichokes after visiting the Central Coast of California to celebrate New Year 2002. I picked up baby artichokes for 10 cents each at the San Luis Obispo Farmers Market. Using the Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® theoretical principles to guide me, along with a general notion of Mediterranean flavors (the original home of artichokes is Sicily), I came up with this sauce. Later, I was able to find baby artichokes for the same price on sale at my local supermarket. As an aside, "baby" artichokes really aren't "babies"; they are merely lateral flower buds, which are always smaller than the primary bud (oh, you did know that artichokes are flower buds, didn't you? Yes, they are.).

When I couldn't get fresh baby artichokes, I used asparagus, and was really happy! I've even made this sauce using roasted asparagus; this added a whole new flavor dimension. You could also use mature fresh artichoke hearts (trimmed of leaves and the choke, sliced thinly, but not pre-cooked), or canned or frozen artichoke hearts (not marinated, please, unless you are willing to adjust the other proportions yourself!).

In a large skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the sliced asparagus or artichokes and the lemon juice. Saute, stirring often, until the asparagus or artichokes have softened and caramelized slightly. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and then reduce heat until the mixture is simmering only slightly. Continue cooking until the asparagus or artichokes are soft and the water has reduced, about 30 minutes, allowing all of the flavors to merge while creating a syrupy sauce around the larger pieces. Serve or use immediately.


Artichoke/Asparagus Sauce for Pasta/Rice/Potatoes: The above sauce proportions are enough for 2 to 3 portions of cooked pasta (1/4 lb pasta prior to boiling), or cooked rice (1 c cooked rice per portion) or boiled/steamed potatoes (about ½ lb of potatoes per serving, prior to cooking). Optionally (but preferably, you can add some grated hard cheese, such as pecorino, asiago or parmesan.

Artichoke/Asparagus Sauce for Bruschetta: You can "cheat" by just putting the Artichoke or Asparagus Sauce on slices of plain crusty bread, or you can toast the bread in a toaster or a toaster oven, or in the oven or under the broiler, or in a dry cast iron skillet over high heat, or on your favorite grill. Optionally, you can add some grated hard cheese, such as pecorino, asiago or parmesan, or some fresh goat cheese.

Artichoke/Asparagus Sauce for Pan-Seared or Poached Fish: Cook the fish separately while preparing the Artichoke or Asparagus Sauce. When fish is done to desirability, spoon the Artichoke or Asparagus Sauce over the top. There is enough sauce for 4 portions when used in this manner.

Artichoke/Asparagus Sauce for Pan Fried Chicken, or for Pan Fried Lamb Chops or Pork Chops: Use the olive oil specified in the Artichoke or Asparagus Sauce recipe to brown the chicken, lamb or pork in a large skillet. After browning the meat, remove to a plate. In the same skillet, prepare the artichoke sauce, scraping the bottom of the pan after adding the artichokes and lemon juice to remove any of the brown bits. When the rest of the ingredients are added to the sauce, add the meat back into the skillet, and simmer with the sauce to complete the cooking. After about 30 minutes, serve.

Artichoke/Asparagus Quiche: Prepare the Artichoke or Asparagus Sauce as indicated, but allow to cool to room temperature when complete. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together 3 to 4 large eggs, and add ½ c milk/cream. Prepare and bake a 9" piecrust of your choice (pastry, white rice, wild rice). Place ¼ c grated cheese in the bottom of the piecrust (for this quiche, I like a strong flavored cheese, like feta, chevre, gorgonzola, pecorino, asiago or parmesan). Add the egg-milk mixture to the room temperature Artichoke or Asparagus Sauce and mix thoroughly. Pour into the piecrust over the cheese. Top with another ¼ c of the strong-flavored cheese, bake for 30 minutes, and serve hot, warm or at room temperature. I like it served with a salad with a simple vinaigrette; it's so delicious you could cry.

This simple, flavorful recipe is an easy way to use what some consider to be difficult vegetables. This recipe is also a great way to increase the amount of vitamins, fiber and various antioxidants and other phytochemicals in your diet. Give some of the variations a try using both asparagus and artichokes, and let me know how you like them. If you continue experimenting with variations and applications, send me a note at 773.508.9208 or email me! Mangi!