Think outside the pizza box
Although you can find artichokes in markets most of the year, right now is their absolute peak of season. So I thought I'd share a recipe that features artichokes in one of my favorite preparations, as the featured topping for a very simple pizza that complements the vegetable with some flavorful homemade chili-garlic oil, fresh herbs, caramelized onions and a light sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan. That's it. There's no slathering of sharp tomato sauce or blanket of melted cheese to conceal the deliciousness of the artichoke itself.
We who love artichokes are often tempted to call it the perfect vegetable. Consider just a few of the facts.
Artichokes are beautiful to behold. Wide at their stem ends and gradually tapering, they range in size from barely bigger than golf balls to, more commonly, the dimensions of a softball. The exteriors are covered in fibrous leaves with sharp, pointy tips. Buried inside, however, is the artichoke's heart: Firm, nutty and rich-tasting, a treasure that's delicious whether the artichoke is steamed whole or pared down to the heart alone, which can be stuffed and baked, braised or cut up and sauteed.
The following recipe, which features artichokes as the star ingredient, is perfect for dinner on a springtime weekend. Although it's easy, you'll need the afternoon for some advance preparation.
Allow three or four hours to prepare the following recipe for my own go-to pizza dough. (However, it's perfectly OK if you find good-quality, ready-to-use pizza dough in your favorite supermarket.) You'll also want to allow at least a couple of hours for the seasonings to steep in my recipe for chili-garlic oil, and at least an hour to cook and cool the caramelized onions.
The sauteed artichokes featured as the topping need less than 15 minutes to cook. But allow another 30 to 45 minutes to prep them first, a process I'd like to share in detail here.
First, squeeze two lemon halves into a bowl of cold water, and have one more lemon at the ready, cut in half; this will prevent the artichoke hearts from discoloring. Cut off the stems with a paring knife. Starting at the base and rubbing cut surfaces with a lemon half, carefully peel off the tough outer green skin and leaves, working upward to the indentation about a third of the way from the base. Cut crosswise at the indentation to expose the fibrous choke; scoop it out with a teaspoon. Cut each bottom into eight wedges and put in the lemon water. They're now ready to cook.
Once the artichokes have been sauteed, you'll be ready to start putting together some of the easiest, most flavorful springtime pizzas ever!
HERBED ARTICHOKE PIZZAS
Makes four 8-inch (20-cm) pizzas