Some kitchen tasks are more enjoyable than others. Nothing beats rolling fresh pasta dough, and I can't explain it, but pitting cherries is fun for me. Then, there are the kitchen things that I don't look forward to doing at all. Washing dishes takes first place in that category, and not far behind that is peeling shrimp. I've gotten a little faster at peeling and deveining in recent years, so it's not quite as dreaded now as it used to be. And, then, there are artichokes. Facing the task of prepping fresh artichokes feels like heading into battle. Those leaves are tough, and they have pointy spots and seem to fight back. You have to use some force to cut through those leaves and then to peel around the heart. When you finally get to removing the choke, you end up with fine, hair-like pieces all over your work surface. All the while, the artichoke is quickly turning brown even though you keep rubbing it with lemon before dropping it into a bowl of water with more lemon. I can't help but feel a bit defeated when after the battle, what remains of the artichoke to be eaten is tiny compared to the size it was when this all started. So, I've developed a coping mechanism for the stress of prepping artichokes. I remind myself how short their season is. I tell myself that locally grown artichokes weren't even available a few years ago, and we're lucky to have them now. I think of the cleaning process as a rare spring event that's necessary to endure in order to enjoy the flavor of fresh artichokes. Last, I find a great recipe that's going to make all that effort very worthwhile.
This panzanella was just such a recipe, and it's a vision of spring on the plate. It's is also from Girl in the Kitchen, and I was reminded of it when I pulled the book off the shelf for the Pistachio-Cilantro Butter. After convincing myself to approach the artichokes with a positive attitude and prevailing in the battle of their prep, the cleaned hearts were cut into eight pieces. They were cooked in a mixture of olive oil, stock, white wine, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. It was interesting that this cooking liquid became the dressing for the salad. After the artichokes became tender, after about 25 minutes, they were removed from the pan. Then, the cooking liquid was boiled and reduced to about one half cup. Meanwhile, bread cubes were toasted, and the strawberries that arrived in my CSA were washed and sliced. Basil should have been used in this salad, but I didn't have any basil growing yet that day so I used parsley instead. One last ingredient was preserved lemon, and the rind was julienned. The artichokes, bread cubes, strawberries, parsley, and preserved lemon were tossed with the cooled, reduced cooking liquid. That mixture was served over slices of fresh mozzarella.
The dressing was surprisingly flavorful, and the preserved lemon gave the salad a nice, bright punch. Sweet strawberries and fresh mozzarella were a great match with the crunchy toasted bread. And, what about those artichokes? This is the kind of dish that will make the artichoke battle easier to face each time.