One of the things I love most about Greek cooking is the way in which vegetables are taken so seriously. They are a main ingredient in their own right and not relegated to side dishes for meat or fish. When it comes to the actual vegetables themselves in Greek cooking, nothing is more exciting than the artichoke.
The season for artichokes is brief and if you grow your own they are at their best to harvest when small and tender, the flower bud closed tightly and very glossy. My favourite artichoke dishes include my mother in law's recipe for stuffed artichokes (you can find the recipe here) and also the classic 'city style' braised in olive oil along with the onions, garlic, carrot, potato, a few fronds of dill and plenty of lemon juice (you can find the recipe here).
My father in law was reminiscing the other day about an artichoke dish that his mother would often cook, when he was a boy. It was similar to the 'city style', the artichokes being braised in olive oil, but instead of the supporting flavours being carrot or potato, his mother would often add a dozen bulbs of fresh green garlic, trimmed as though they were spring onions, plenty of dill and either peas or fresh broad beans, depending on what she had harvested from their garden and surrounds.
This dish, filled with spring vegetables, requires a little preparation effort. However, I really enjoy the preparation work that comes with spring produce, extracting all the deliciousness - podding the peas or broad beans, peeling away the artichoke leaves to get to the tender heart, it makes me stop and appreciate the abundance of spring after a long winter.
Braised artichokes with fresh, green garlic (αγκινάρες με φρέσκο σκόρδο)
10 artichokes, cleaned & trimmed
1/2 cup good quality Greek olive oil
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
1 bunch of small heads of fresh garlic, cleaned & trimmed
500g fresh peas or broad beans, shelled and skinned
1 small bunch of dill, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Clean & trim artichokes and fresh garlic (immediately submerge the artichokes in the bowl of cold water and the juice from one half of a lemon)
2. Heat a little of the olive oil in a large pot.
3. Add the onion and cook stirring until tender about 5 minutes.
4. Add the garlic, artichokes and enough water to barely cover along with the remaining olive oil - allow to simmer, covered.
5. After about 40 minutes, add the juice of one lemon and the chopped dill. Simmer for about a further 20 minutes uncovered and allow the liquid to reduce by about a third - so you really only have the flavoursome oil left. Season with salt & black pepper.
Note: Don't stir the dish while simmering - you don't want the spring vegetables to go too mushy - just give the pan a good shake if you are worried about it catching. Also, this dish gets even better the second day after you have made it, as all the flavours really start to mingle well.