Cooking for one or two? I know, I know, it can get so boring to eat the same thing or the same type of thing when you live alone. Cooking for two shares some of those difficulties, but it feels like such an improvement over one when it happens. I’ve been there, done that–working long days and not always having the motivation to pack a lunch or actually cook something for dinner. Sure, it was fun to find a recipe for my first risotto or a pancetta and bechamel lasagna and bring it to life in my first solo apartment, but by the end of the week I didn’t even want to look at lasagna (can’t say I had the same problem with the risotto). The freezer helps. Just when you think you can’t stand another bite of potato tart (unlikely, but possible), wrap it snugly in individual portions, label it clearly, and store it in the back of the freezer for a welcome break in the sandwich or salad break lunch routine. Freezer leftovers are the best at lunch–pull them out of the freezer in the morning without planning ahead. Since they’re frozen solid, they don’t get banged up during your commute. Leave them in your bag, at room temp, ’til noon, then microwave the rest of the way, and voila! Bragging rights about having the best lunch in the office. Or the pain of fielding everyone’s questions about what you’re eating while you’re trying to just savor your leftovers in peace.
Gratins are perfect candidates for the freezer. I’ve just begun cooking through the entire section of them in The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and I’m quickly realizing that they don’t have to fulfill the stereotype of a pool of cream and cheese with some specks of vegetables thrown in for color. However, even this predominantly vegetable gratin is cooked in butter, a fat that will help it to freeze well. Last week’s cabbage gratin, with more structure from a sauce of flour and milk, would freeze even better.
So far, though, I haven’t gotten to test my claims. The stuffing-like bread topping on this one is so garlicky and addictive that, even if you had some left to freeze, you might not be able to restrain yourself from picking off and eating the toasted bread first (not saying that happened in our house or anything). It’s so good, in fact, that it compensates for the time spent trimming and tending to whole, fresh artichokes. Just how, as a food enthusiast, I made it 29 and a half years without holding a real life artichoke in my hands, I’ll never know. Maybe it’s one of those things that there’s just no good reason to do at home unless you’re faced with a CSA box full of them. Kind of like homemade puff pastry. I mean, if Ina doesn’t make her own puff pastry, I see no logical reason why I should either.
I do like earning my home chef street cred, though, and I’m using this cook-through adventure as an opportunity to take on any challenges the recipes present. It forces me out of my comfort zone and all the excuses I come up with that usually lead me to just keep turning the cookbook pages until I find a recipe with perfectly acceptable ingredients that require no further research. I can’t say conclusively that the artichokes tasted better because I trimmed them myself, or that the small pile of the few tough, unchewable leaves I missed pushed to the side of the otherwise cleaned plate looked appealing. However, I have added preparation skills for one more vegetable to my arsenal, and it was much easier than I expected, once I got going. Now let’s just hope for a bumper crop of artichokes during this, my first, CSA season.
Up next: Cauliflower Gratin with Smoked Cheddar and Caraway
- ½ C lemon juice
- 1 additional lemon, quartered
- 2 t all purpose flour (optional)
- 3 T olive oil
- 2 T butter (plus more for pan)
- 2¼ C diced yellow onion (1 large)
- 4 medium to large artichokes
- 1 large celery root (mine was just over a pound)
- 1 large Yukon gold (or other thin-skinned yellow) potato (1/2 lb.)
- 1¼ t kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- 12 oz. sturdy white bread, such as pain de campagne, crusts removed and torn into 1" pieces (fresh, not dried)
- 1 C milk
- ½ C finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 2 T chopped garlic (just larger than minced)
- 2 oz. parmesan, finely grated
- Fill a large bowl with 2 quarts water and 6 T lemon juice. Trim the artichokes as follows, which is well demonstrated in this video (through 2:20, at which point our methods vary slightly). Remove leaves by snapping them firmly down toward the stem, stopping when the revealed leaves are pale yellow at the base and more thin than those on the outer layers. Cut off enough of the end of the stem to reveal a clean cross section, then use a paring knife to peel away most of the green outer layer of the stem, leaving the lighter middle intact. Rub stem with a lemon wedge. With the same knife, peel off the darker green area at the base of the bulb, just above the stem, so it's smooth where the outer leaves were snapped off. Rub with lemon. With a sharp knife, cut off the top third of the artichoke bulb, turn it upside down, and dip it into the lemon (acidulated) water. Quarter the artichoke, dipping each piece into the lemon water. Firmly pull on the inner, purple-tipped leaves to remove, then cut out the fuzzy innard, the "choke", with the paring knife. Be careful to remove only the choke and little of the heart below it, which is the best part of the artichoke (how hazardous for our trimming efforts). Drop the cleaned quarters into the bowl of acidulated water and trim the remaining 3 artichokes.
- Trim the celery root (see this excellent tutorial) by cutting off the ends with a sharp knife. Stand it on one end, then cut away the peel from top to bottom, working your way around the root. Halve the root from top to bottom. Slice the celery root very thinly (on a mandolin--helpful but not required). Scrub and dry the potato, then slice it the same or similar thickness as the celery root.
- In a large pot, combine most of the acidulated water from the artichokes (leaving a bit in the bowl with them), an additional 1½ quarts of water, and 2 more tablespoons lemon juice. Add flour and 2 teaspoons olive oil, then bring to a boil. Add artichokes and gently boil for 10 minutes.
- While artichokes cook, melt butter in a large skillet over medium. Add onions, stir to coat, then cook, stirring occasionally. If onions begin to brown in the first couple minutes, turn down the heat. The goal is to brown them over the next 20 minutes or so. Leave them on the heat, stirring occasionally, as you proceed.
- Remove artichokes to a now empty bowl using a slotted spoon. Add celery root to water and boil 3 minutes, removing to another bowl. Boil potatoes for 1 minute, then add to bowl with celery root. Thinly slice the slightly cooled artichokes, discarding any especially tough leaves you encounter (if they're hard to cut, they'll likely be hard to chew). Perfect slices aren't necessary--the goal is just to break up the artichokes into smaller, relatively uniform pieces, but some leaves will separate from the heart.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F).
- Once the onions have started to brown, add artichokes, celery root, and potato to the pan and stir (or use tongs to toss) to coat in butter and onions. Cook and stir another 8 to 10 minutes, until celery root and potatoes have softened further (but not cooked completely--bite into a potato slice to check). Stir in 1¼ teaspoons salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
- Rinse and dry one of the bowls from the vegetables. Place the bread pieces in it and pour milk evenly over them. After 5 minutes, gently squeeze bread in your hands to remove excess moisture and discard extra milk. Toss bread with parsley, garlic, parmesan, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Butter a 9 x 13" (or slightly smaller) baking dish, preferably glass or enameled, then spread the onion and vegetable mixture evenly, making sure one type of vegetable doesn't all end up in one corner.
- Top vegetables with bread mixture, then drizzle with remaining (2+ tablespoons) olive oil. Bake about 35 minutes on middle oven rack, until top is golden brown in places and gratin is bubbly. Cool briefly, then cut with a serrated knife and serve carefully, so browned crust stays on top.
Adapted from The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison.
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