Today feels like the first day of winter. Yesterday, the sky was crimson and plum as the sun rose and the feeling was distinctively autumnal. But this morning, I could swear that sunrise was a good hour later and thick snow clouds blocked any sunlight that might have been breaking. Snow fell lightly outside, and I tricked myself into believing there were poinsettias reflected behind me in the window. All of this, coupled with the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving-Christmas-cookie-baking at my aunt’s yesterday, pushes the season firmly into winter.
Before you go ahead thinking, “Wait, Christmas cookies?!?! Already? I thought I was ahead of the game because I started listening to Christmas songs to pass the time at work on Wednesday! But cookies?” I can explain; for many years, my aunt has been making a variety of Christmas cookies to distribute on Christmas Eve to family and friends. She distributes them in crisp white oblong boxes, which when opened reveal bite sized cheesecakes, pound cakes, snicker doodles, macaroons, ladyfingers, and the culprits yesterday- a rich chocolate brownie, cupped by a thin layer of sweet dough. They are at the center of the pie-cookie-brownie intersection, which sounds like a very good place to be, and have come to be known as fudge delices. Delice means “delight” in French, although we pronounce it del-a-say. At the height of her baking, she would make 200 dozen of each cookie in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then distribute them on Christmas Eve. Around ten years ago, she called in my cousins and me for help with the labor intensive fudge delices, and tradition was born. While the sheer number of cookies has been greatly reduced in size these past few years, we still gather the day after Thanksgiving around her kitchen table to make and form dough, stir pots of chocolate, and tell the same jokes. Fudge delices deserve their own post though, and this is not about cookies- it’s about artichokes, of course.
How do I get from chocolate filled pastry dough to artichokes? Well, my very weak point is that with all this snow, cookie-pie-brownie baking, and family gathering, I feel like Christmas might as well be tomorrow. Don’t freak out- it’s not. But inevitably, the holiday season can sometimes get the best of us. It’s easy to rush around, there can be so much to do between now and then; gift-shopping, ugly-sweater parties, fancy-sweater parties, halls to be decked, partridges to find in pear trees, and trying to catch A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV. And if you’re like me, you might feel a little maxed out on cookie-pie-brownies, sugar plums, and things covered in red and green sprinkles. My answer to all of this- artichokes.
I love artichokes. Sadly, I know many people who have never enjoyed an artichoke in its full glory. A whole artichoke is far removed from canned artichoke hearts, and is an experience in and of itself. Despite what you may think, they are not difficult to prepare. Sure, they look all weird, but you just have to lop a bit off the top and cut off the stem. If you have another minute, tear off some of the tough bottom leaves and trim the rough tops of the outer ones. To finish, drizzle with olive oil, generously season with salt and pepper, then wrap in aluminum foil and toss into a hot oven for about an hour.
What to do with that hour? I’m sure during this holiday season you’ll have no trouble filling it up. The last five minutes, I suggest you prepare a fresh salad and fry a few eggs. When the artichokes are finished, you unwrap, and pull off one leaf at a time- scraping the tasty pulp between your teeth. I like to dip mine occasionally in the runny egg yolk, but melted butter or mayonnaise are traditional. As you get closer to the center leaves, the pulp increases, and the flavor intensifies. Once you hit the choke, scrape it off with a spoon, and then all that is left is the heart- the best part. While the preparation is quick for artichokes, eating them takes awhile, which makes them a delicious way to sit around the table with family and slow down this season.
Simply Roasted Artichokes
-artichokes (one per person)
-salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 425°F. With a sharp knife, cut the bottom stem, and the top inch of the artichoke off. Rip off the first layer of tough outer leaves near the bottom, and use kitchen shears to trim off some of the rough leave tips. Place an individual artichoke on a large square of aluminum foil, rub olive oil over the top and sides, and season generously with salt and pepper. Wrap tightly with the foil, and repeat as many times as necessary. Place in the center of the oven, either on a baking tray or not, and cook for about an hour- particularly small ones will cook shorter, larger ones, a little longer. Meanwhile, relax, and enjoy the aroma that will start to fill your home.