I usually respect the seasons with devotion. My benchmark are the local farmers’ markets and our vegetable garden, which, however, is always a little behind the rhythms that you would normally expect from a Tuscan garden. It is lazy, just like me.
This year, though, after the first snowy and icing cold winter after such a long time, I am craving summer.
Let me be specific: I have a craving for jammy baked tomatoes with capers, oregano and breadcrumbs, for roasted bell peppers bathed in a garlicky olive oil. If I close my eyes, I can almost taste the smoky pulp of a grilled eggplant, sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs from the garden.
I’m not going to deny this beautiful blooming Spring made of sunny days, pungent radishes and wild herbs, but the cravings for summer vegetables and al fresco candle-lit dinners remain.
In recent years, summer has been frighteningly heavy: too many working hours, too many cooking classes, too hot, definitely too much. This year, though, I feel like I’ve grown up, it iss like I took a step forward in the awareness of what I want and what I can do.
This craving for baked cherry tomatoes, after all, is just a desire to prove to myself that perhaps, eventually, I will be able to live summer, even better, the good season, as I’ve been meaning to do for such a long time.
Yesterday a couple of friends who joined us for a picnic in the garden asked me: but after all, do you have time to enjoy this paradise? Not as much as I would like, I heard myself answering.
I learnt to appreciate winter as a season full of inspiration and opportunities for a personal growth. I love its warmth and its way of making you feel safe, with the fire crackling in the fireplace and a simmering pot of soup on the stove.
I want to enjoy Summer as I used to do when I was at school and the three-month summer holidays would make everything easier. This year the good season will no longer be a scorching hot, sticky, tiring and dazzling break, it won’t be the obstacle between the first timid days of Spring and the regal splendour of Autumn. Believe me when I say that it will be a stimulating season to live and enjoy to learn something new: to have fun, for example.
I need a season like this, to rediscover the lightness of mind and heart, the enchantment of the countryside in the last hours of the day or in the early morning, when we wake up together.
I planted two raspberries, a wisteria and a gooseberry bush as a sign of respect for this pact I made with myself.
In this beautiful season that has just begun I want to live more outside, even if this means working on the stone table in the garden, under the olive trees, as I am doing right now. The time has come for long walks that smell of flowers and woods, for a cup of tea drunk in the garden with a sprig of mint in infusion, for the strawberries eaten directly from the plants, slowly and lightly.
Baby artichokes preserved in olive oil
Take these baby artichokes preserved in olive oil that I just made, for example. They are not just for the winter, to serve with boiled beef or chicken and a dollop of salsa verde. No, I have prepared them thinking about summer, to dress a pizza baked in a wood burning oven when our friends come for dinner. I will also spoon them into a bowl on a cutting board, nestled among cold cuts and cheese, for a unpretentious meal under the August stars.
I bought a bag of artichokes at the market, I took them home, furtively looking at them for an entire day, waiting to carve out some free time to devote to my favourite form of meditation, the repetitive and mechanical cleaning of Spring vegetables. After the agretti and the fava beans, here comes the moment of baby artichokes.
Once cleaned, blanch the artichokes in water and vinegar. I do this for two reasons: on one side, during the long hot summer days I will mentally thank myself for their refreshing and vinegary taste, on the other side, this is one of the required steps for properly made preserves in oil.
I lined the blanched baby artichokes on a tea towel to dry for almost two days, then I placed them in jars and covered them with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkling a few peppercorns between one artichoke layer and the other. Now I’ll just need some patience, I’ll wait for a few months, and then I will take one of these jars from the pantry, open it, and enjoy the summer.
Tommaso also made a quick video to show you how to clean the baby artichokes, it might be useful if you want to make this preserve.
- 2 kg of baby artichokes
- 2 lemons
- 1,5 l of water
- 1,5 l of white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons of coarse sea salt
- 500 ml of extra virgin olive oil
- A few teaspoons of peppercorns
Fill a large bowl with water and squeeze in two lemons, then add the halved lemons into the bowl.
Clean the artichokes, removing the hardest outer leaves, until you reach the heart of the artichoke, which has lighter and tender leaves. Cut the prickly tip of the artichoke and trim the base. Rub the artichoke with half of a lemon and plunge the cleaned artichoke heart into the bowl of water. Do the same for all the baby artichokes.
Pour the water and the vinegar into a large pot, then bring them to a boil over medium heat. When they start to boil, add the salt and then all the artichokes.
Cook over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the artichokes are so soft that they can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife.
Drain the artichokes and arrange them standing, cut side down, in a tray covered with a clean tea towel. Cover them with another tea towel and leave them dry for at least a day, until they have drained all the excess water.
When the artichokes are ready, pour a few tablespoons of olive oil on the bottom of the jars, then fill them with the artichokes, placing them one next to the other. Sprinkle a few peppercorns between one layer and the another.
Fill the jars with olive oil covering the artichokes. Check again after a few hours to see if you need to pour in more olive oil to completely cover the artichokes. Close the jars and store them for a few months in the pantry, or in a dry, cool and dark place.
- When we talk about preserved vegetables in olive oil, I am always a bit scared by botulism. So please read these articles and follow scrupulously their advice. The Need-to-Know Guide to Botulism, For Safe Canning & Preserving and In jams and jellies, acidity is the key to avoiding botulism.
- Here an article with step-by-step photos on how to clean and cook baby artichokes, by Heidi Swanson at 101Cookbooks.
- More recipes for baby artichokes preserved in olive oil here, here and here.
- If you do not feel like canning baby artichokes, here a recipe for herb-and-lemon poached baby artichokes. Look how beautiful they are.