Almost all of the time, we share center of the plate dishes with you. Today, we’d like to share three vegetable side dishes that put a spin on familiar favorites like green beans and potatoes, and we venture outside our comfort zone with Stuffed Artichokes. In the process we were cooking in great company.
The Lee Brothers are determined to explore their culinary roots in the American South but they’re turning a lot of Southern classics on their heads. They make them healthier, fresher and more flat-out modern. Anybody who has ever wondered why on earth anyone would cook all the color out of green beans, will be happy here. Instead of cooking the life out of them, generally accompanied by a ham hock, the Lees use a deft hand and a cast iron skillet to turn out this beautifully colored dish.Alexandra Guarnaschelli is the Executive Chef at New York’s Butter Restaurant (415 Lafayette St. (between 4th St & Astor Place) New York, NY 10003 (Tel: (212) 253-2828). And one of her shows on the Food Network is one of our favorites: “Alex’s Day Off”. If the Lee’s influence is the South, Alex’s is Europe combining her apprenticeship in France with the food of her Italian-American childhood. Alex’s is not just a wonderful cook, she’s a great teacher. Every step is explained. And she’s fun to watch whether she’s flirting outrageously with her butcher or taking us through the intricacies of peeling an artichoke. Which brings me to the subject at hand. I had never peeled an artichoke before. I’m not going to say it was terribly difficult, it was just a little more time-consuming than I’d imagined. My friend Keith says he’s got it down to a science. I don’t think mine looked too bad and they tasted great, but it amazed me how much ‘choke had to peeled away. But the effort paid off as I think you can see. And finally, Alex’s oven-roasted potatoes are so easy, they more than made up for any time spent on the artichokes. Here are the recipes:
Recipe for the Lee Brother’s Skillet Green Beans with Orange
Serves 4 Time: 10 minutes preparation, 10 minutes cooking
1 large navel orange
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Finely grate the zest of the orange and reserve it. Segment the orange and keep the sections and juice in a bowl.
2 In a large cast-iron skillet or sauté pan, heat the canola oil over high heat, swirling it around the pan so it coats the bottom thinly and evenly. When the oil begins to smoke, add the beans (in batches if necessary–don’t crowd the pan) and scatter ½ teaspoon of the salt over them. Cook, stirring only every 1½ to 2 minutes, until the beans are half-blistered and blackened, about eight minutes. Transfer the beans to a serving platter or bowl. Lift the orange segments out of their juice (reserve the juice) and scatter them over the beans. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon of the orange zest over the beans and oranges.
3 Add the vinegar, olive oil, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt to the bowl of orange juice, and whisk until thoroughly combined.
4 Pour the dressing over the beans. Toss, and season to taste with salt, black pepper, and the remaining orange zest.
At left, Lee Brother’s Skillet Green Beans with Orange are a great side dish with a simply grilled steak and Alex’s Oven-Roasted New Potatoes, the recipe for which follows.
Recipe for Alex Guarnaschelli’s Stuffed Artichokes
Serves 6. Cooking time: 50 minutes. Prep time: As long as it takes you to prep 6 artichokes.
Cold water, as needed
3 to 4 lemons, juiced, divided
6 medium artichokes, stems trimmed
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs, lightly toasted
1/2 bunch curly parsley, stemmed, washed, dried and chopped
1 small or 1/2 medium bulb fennel, tough outer layer removed, halved lengthwise, cut into thin slices and very roughly chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup fontina cheese, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1. Prepare a bowl of cold water large enough to hold the 6 artichoke hearts. Add the juice of 2 lemons to the water. Use a paring knife to trim the dark green skin from the stem and the base of each artichoke. Also slice about 2 to 3 inches off the top. In a circular motion, using a paring knife or peeler or your hands, peel the outer, dark green bitter layer of the heart until the fleshly, light green part is exposed. Trim and leave about 2 to 3 inches of the stem. (Chef’s Note: Since the stem is edible, why cut it off? Plus, the stem makes for a more beautiful presentation.) Use a tablespoon to scoop out the “hay” or “choke” from the center of each artichoke. Squeeze some of the remaining lemon juice over the artichoke, if desired, rubbing the lemon directly on them to prevent them from discoloring, then submerge them in the lemon water.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
3. In a large bowl, combine 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil, the bread crumbs, parsley and fennel with the fontina and Parmesan. Stir to blend. Season with salt, to taste. Remove the artichokes from the water, pat dry and transfer them to a bowl. Reseason with salt and drizzle them with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Stuff each artichoke with the bread crumb mixture and arrange them in a baking dish. Don’t be afraid to pack the stuffing into each artichoke. Arrange them close together in the dish so they steam a little and create moisture as they cook. Top the artichokes with any remaining stuffing. Add a little water to the bottom of the baking dish to prevent the artichokes from drying out or scorching on the bottom as they cook. Cover the dish with a tight layer of aluminum foil and put the baking dish in the center of the oven.
4. After 45 minutes, remove the dish from the oven. Test the most tender part of the artichoke, where the stem and the heart meet, with the tip of a knife. The knife should pierce and remove without resistance. Remove the foil and put the dish under a broiler for 5 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving. Cut each artichoke in half to reveal the stuffing, arrange on serving plates and serve.
Recipe for Alex’s Oven-Roasted Potatoes:
2 lbs new potatoes, preferably a mix of red and baby Yukon golds
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
Coarse Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Put potatoes into a casserole dish with a lid. Add Olive oil and distribute it over the potatoes with your hands. Give the potatoes a healthy helping of coarse salt and several grinds of fresh pepper.
3. Put casserole into oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve.