An Artichoke Story of Second Chances

Artichokes blanched in lemon water salted generously. The lemon is key!

Artichokes blanched in lemon water salted generously. The lemon is key!

Second chances.... How often do we get them? And, when we do, how different do we play the rerun? What do we learn from the first attempt? What would we not do again? What did we lose and what did we gain? Do we realise what felt right and what is right? 

You are wondering why I am asking existential questions in a food blog and when I intend to talk about artichokes. After all, food is meant to be light, joyous and fun! Ah! It is all of those. It is the amazing medium that brings you close, builds a bond, makes a memorable story. For me, it is also the less spoken thrill; Ups and downs, struggles and celebrations, joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, trials with fails and successes. It is the entire journey of life! Well, the point is, my experience with artichokes has been rather reflective of my experiences in life as seen through the eyes of this blog, which, as I proceed to explain is not unimperative!

Pancetta sautéed artichoke hearts salad with diced boiled lemon. 

Pancetta sautéed artichoke hearts salad with diced boiled lemon. 

As I tick off another year of blogging this month, I realise that the last seven years have been my single longest commitment to any one thing, both professionally and personally. And, there is no seven year itch! Whoa! I am not a commitment phobe but a natural tendency restlessness and easy boredom, combined with circumstances both with family and the market has made my life so far something like going through a tumble dry machine; with its sweets ups and terrible downs but never in one place long enough to pause and consider. 

This blog not only has been my faithful friend, happiness project but it has been the singular source of inspiration that loyalty has its virtue. It has allowed me the challenge of self-discovery, an alternate path from what I technically trained for through two degrees and several years of work experience. Then, I thought I was where I was meant to be. This blog showed me that perhaps, there was something better I can do. This blog gave me a second chance at discovering my potential; long after the grades matter and much without connections.

And, the reason I have not been itching to find something else is not only how much I have grown with this blog but really in this relationship with the blog. It has kept me engaged and when I felt it failing, I have been spurred to keep the interest going, to find new ways to reengage and new goals to push me further. From recipes to photography to identifying market needs and limitations, this blog has been the most fertile test and launch ground. It has given me new opportunities to explore, like publishing the NOURISHED magazine, FOODLY that I launched and learned from, writing for other magazines, and brought me in connection with the entire food industry across farming, production and retail. I love every moment of it!

artichokes being peeled

How often did I get them? I have had a few second chances in my life. Ironically, many of those have been instigated by my journey through this blog. How? Well, basically, as I discovered more of myself creatively, professionally, artistically, it allowed me to open not only to myself to everything around me and people around me.

What did I learn from the first attempt? What did I lose and gain? Do we realise what felt right and what is right? 

Over the years, I have lost people from my life, I have left people behind, I have found real friendship and happiness, recognized the difference between need and desire, I have found new talents within myself and set new goals to reach. I am an analytical person much engaged in numbers, dollars and such. This blog allowed me to explore the creative side of me that had been thwarted for a quarter century! Imagine that. It is almost metamorphosis. Along with it, comes the typical struggle of confusion, acceptance and then moving forward. I began my professional career in finance and have now moved to marketing and developed a passion for causes of food sustainability. That is the new me overlaid with the always me of being happy around people, extraverted and strategic. 

This is my second chance. And, I am thankful for that.

What would I not do again? Take things for granted and because it must be so. Learn to live outside of "shoulds" and in the world of "woulds and coulds". 

Why am I talking about this with artichokes in the subject? Well, the thing is, my experience has made me dispositioned to give things a second chance. So, when, after being inspired by gorgeous photographs and gushing description, I picked up some artichokes for bit of play. I have never cooked them before because well, it seemed a lot of effort for little return (yes, this is the old numerical me!). 

The first attempt I made with these was ok, not great and I was left with a feeling of void where all those massive expectations had been. But, I was determined to give these chokes another try and that was fortified by the flood of suggestions I received when I wailed about my lackluster experience. So back to the kitchen it was with globes, shears and knife. 

This time, I listened to everyone and blanched the cleaned globes in a very lemony salted water. The difference was like night and day. I knew artichokes needed lemon. I had not realised until the second try that they desired lemon as well! It was so flavorful even just blanched but I could not resist a bit of crunch and sear. I sautéed the hearts with crisped pancetta and served it as a salad with bits of diced boiled lemon rind. 

Ah! You are curious about the last ingredient. It was a serendipitous discovery. I had put lemon quarters to blanch the chokes and out of curiosity took a bite of the cooked lemon and it was delicious! Surprised and happy at my discovery, I removed the pith and chopped up the cooked rind and it was amazing. Mildly lemony like a preserved lemon but so much quicker to make and a brilliant way of using up leftover rind I think!

As to the cleaning process, well, it really is not tedious and rather quick once you have gained confidence about what you need to do and gone through the first globe. I used video resources online to guide me through the process. I may have trimmed more than needed but since my focus was on the hearts more than the leaves, it was ok. 

In summary, artichokes are definitely going to be made more often, if I can pick them up in season and cheap!


Pancetta and Fresh Artichoke Heart Salad with Boiled Lemon

This recipe serves two as a starter. You can make it fuller meal by sautéing steamed baby potatoes along with the artichoke hearts and add arugula to the plate and serve with a lemon vinaigrette. Makes a light and wonderful summer dinner.

If you are looking for resources for how to prepare the artichokes for cooking, I give an outline below, and, here are a couple of resources I used to guide me.

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2 globe artichokes 

1 lemon

generous amount of salt

2 oz pancetta dices

chopped parsley

Remove the loose outer leaves of the artichokes until you reach the softer ones on the inside.

Using a kitchen shears cut the thorn, tough upper part of these leaves. Then using a knife trim the inner core by chopping the top off. Quarter each artichoke.

Prepare a big pot of water by salting it generously.

Slice half the lemon vertically into four slices, drop into the water and squeeze slightly to release juices. 

When it is near boil, add the artichoke pieces. Cook covered for 3 minutes until tender.

Drain out the artichokes and lemons and let cool until you are able to handle it. 

Peel away the inside poky leaves and the furry bottom part above the heart and discard. The soft outer leaves you can peal and reserve to eat dipped in garlic sauce or mayo. For this salad we only use the hearts.

What you'll be left with is the base of the artichoke. Slice into cubes.

In a cold pan, add a little oil and the pancetta. Heat the pan on medium and cook the pancetta until crisp and the fat has been rendered. Add the artichoke hearts (and steamed potatoes, if using). Cook to brown the vegetable and transfer to platter.

Now, using a paring knife cut out the inner fibrous pith on the lemon pieces, leaving the soft rind. Chop into fine diced cubes.

Squeeze most of the remaining lemon juice over. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Sprinkle as much of the lemon pieces as you would like and serve.