Just below the Spanish Steps in Rome is a restaurant where the ladies who are shopping the chic next few streets stop in for a lunch of steamed vegetables drizzled with a bit of olive oil and lemon.
I can imagine them, on this sunny warm day, drifting in to this one restaurant for its spring vegetables. Although casual, the atmosphere is draped with white tablecloths and sparkled by shimmers of wine glasses catching the sun.
At this time of year, Rome is adored for its tender, baby purple artichokes and pencil thin asparagus–as thin as the ladies lifting them to their lips. A couple of hours north in the city of Nice, vendors in the Cours Saleya open air market stand before carefully arranged pyramids of tiny purple tipped artichokes, so tender you barely need to cook them.
I could only find large artichokes today, so I am going to prepare them with more attention to cooking them till they are soft, and less to munching on tender raw leaves!
What's the best way to clean an artichoke? The way I do it is to lay a clean tea towel on a kitchen counter, hold the stem end of the artichoke with one hand, and with a sharp knife slice off the top third of the bulb then begin to pare away the outside skin of the stem and cut away the bottom of the stem when it begins to feel stiff. Rub the outside with lemon to keep all from browning.
Then I peel off all of the exterior tough leaves until I get to the softer inside leaves.
As I clean each artichoke I drop it into a big bowl of water that I have added the juice of one lemon to. This will keep them from browning before I want to use them.
Then take each spear of asparagus and snap off the ends where they break easily to get rid of the woody ends. With your sharp paring knife, or a vegetable peeler, clean off the outer skin of each asparagus spear.
I cook the artichokes and asparagus (see directions below) and reserve them till cool.
Next, I make a quick mixture (chopped parsley, lemon peel and garlic) and whizzzzz it in a food processor with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.
This is the puree that I put in a bowl to dip the vegetables in. I reserve about 1/2 cup and add 1/2 cup more of olive oil to make a liquid dressing to drizzle over the vegetables as well. (Today I had spring ramp leaves to add to the puree which was amazing!)
I place each vegetable on a serving plate, cover with the parsley lemon oil, and place in a cool place until ready to serve so that the vegetables have at least an hour to marinate. I can't tell you how easily this dish transports me back to that restaurant beneath the Spanish Steps in Rome!
A Platter of Artichokes & Asparagus
- 1 lemon
- 2 artichokes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 1 bunch parsley, leaves not stalks
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 lemon, zested and juice reserved
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, for parsley puree
- 1/4 cup reserved water from cooking vegetables
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil to thin out puree
- Add lemon juice and halves to a bowl of cold water, squeezing the halves to release more juice.
- Clean artichokes: place a sturdy kitchen towel on your counter to use to anchor the artichokes as you clean them. Hold the stem of an artichoke and cut off the top third of the artichoke and discard. Bend back its outer leaves until they snap off close to base (keep stem attached). Work your way down to the pale yellow tender leaves. Pare off the outer skin of the artichoke stem.
- Immediately drop the artichokes into the lemon water as you finish them to keep them from browning.
- Find a small enough sauce pot so that the artichokes can stand up in it with the stems pointing upwards, then fill the pot with 1 cup water and 1 cup of the lemon water, salt and pepper.
- Simmer the artichokes, with a lid on the pot, for about minutes, or until fork tender.
- Lift the artichokes out of the water and place on a plate to cool. Reserve the liquid.
- Cut off the woody ends of your asparagus then, with a vegetable peeler, very gently peel away the skin of the aspargus and drop the spears into the lemon water.
- When the artichokes are cool enough to touch, place them on your kitchen tea towel so they don't slip and carefully slice each one vertically in half.
- Very gently scoop out and throw away the fuzzy center bits. Reserve the artichoke halves.
- In a skillet, place enough water to barely cover all the asparagus and simmer them very quickly in the same water reserved from cooking the artichokes and cook just until they are barely tender, approximately 3 minutes. Remove and cool. Reserve the cooking liquid to use in the dressing.
- Make the dressing: in a food processor, add the parsley, garlic, lemon zest, juice from one lemon, and whiz until well blended. Then very slowly drip in the olive oil until you make achieve a smooth consistency.
- Remove the parsley lemon puree to a small bowl and whisk in more olive oil until you achieve a liquid dressing to pour over the artichokes and asparagus. Test the flavor first and add more lemon juice or salt to taste. Ladle into a bowl so that you can dip the vegetables in before eating, and reserve 1/4 cup to make a salad dressing to drizzle over the vegetables by adding more olive oil until you reach a consistency you like.
- Arrange the artichokes and asparagus on a serving platter, drizzle the parsley lemon dressing over, and serve.