Impromptu Dinner

I usually like to plan out my grocery shopping by sitting down with a few cookbooks and this months food magazines and think about what I'd like to make that week. It's actually one of my very favorite things to do. Last week, while flipping through Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone I thought of a review I'd read for it on Amazon complaining about her recipe for falafel which instructs one to use a boxed falafel mix. While it's a bit odd, it didn't sway me in buying the book. Though it did make me want to try my hand at homemade falafel. And so, I spent some time online researching different approaches and decided on an epicurious recipe that seems both simple and relatively authentic. And it turned out to be wonderfully delicious, so much so that I referred it to anyone who would listen.

And yesterday, I had spent the morning baking and running errands and found myself driving toward Whole Foods in the afternoon with no idea what I wanted for dinner. And so I decided just to stop in and see what looked good. Perusing the produce section I was quite excited to see baby artichokes had come into season. Well, in Mexico anyway. That is the thing that makes me wonder about so called locavores - it makes sense in the middle of summer to eat fresh sweet corn, and juicy homegrown heirloom tomatoes, but what can you eat in the middle of winter in a cold climate? Do you really pass by meyer lemons and fresh thin asparagus, and ripe sweet tomatoes, just because they are grown someplace where it's sunny and warm while you're stuck in the cold dreary rain? Well, I certainly won't. So I grabbed up some Mexican baby artichokes, and grape tomatoes, and asparagus and went on planning my dinner. I would make a kind of antipasta arrangement - some braised artichokes with meyer lemon, baby broccoli with shallots, garlic, tomatoes, and almonds, chickpea fries (to continue my current fascination with chickpeas) and a lightly dressed arugula salad.
I'd assumed making chickpea fries was a lot like making polenta. And I looked online for confirmation, but instead I got conflicting instructions - one site said to add water in a ratio of 2 to 1, while another was 1 to 1, one site said to let it rest about an hour, while others said atleast 6, or even overnight. So I decided to plow ahead and see what came of it.

I started with some minced garlic, chopped parsely, and a bit of grated Parmesan. Added that to a cup of chickpea flour and then added a half a cup of water. It came together rather quickly and I wondered if perhaps I should add a bit more water, so in went another half a cup. And as I tried to whisk the now thickened paste into the chalky water my whisk stuck and then slung a splattering of chickpea paste first at my stove, and then back at me. So I would not recommend wearing a nice blouse while making chickpea fries. At any rate, I decided this would have to do for my first attempt and quickly transferred the paste into a baking pan to let it cool and firm up.

After letting it sit for a couple hours, I removed it from the fridge, and attempted to flip it out onto the counter. It actually took a bit of poking and prodding but eventually released and plopped down onto the counter where I carefully sliced it into finger sized sticks. I heated a bit of olive oil and proceeded to fry up my first attempts at chickpea fries. They did soak up quite a bit of oil, as compared to the falafel or the corn fritters I made the week before last. So the oil did need to be refilled by the third batch.

Meanwhile I started trimming the baby artichokes - cutting off the bulk of the stem and the top third of the leaves, then shucking off the outer leaves, slicing then in half lengthwise and submerging them in lemon water.

When dinner was starting to come together, I tossed the artichokes with the lemon wedges, 'no-chicken' broth (I'm vegetarian), some white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large skillet using a Martha Stewart Living recipe for reference. And let it come to a simmer, covered for 15 minutes. Now, I've done this before and it's very important to take the lid off and turn the heat off as soon as those 15 minutes are over. Because well, at this point, you've put a lot of energy into these little artichokes and they don't get any better sitting in the hot pan continuing to cook!

While these were cooking, I blanched a bunch of baby broccoli and began sweating some shallots and garlic in a medium saucepan.

When the garlic became quite fragrant, I added the almonds, along with a generous spoonful of red pepper flakes and let this cook until it too became fragrant. Then I added in the halved grape tomatoes letting these soften slightly, and more of the 'no-chicken' stock, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan and form a sauce. When this has all come together, I added back the broccoli pieces and stirred to combine letting this sit off the heat until dinner was ready.

And with the last of the chickpea fries crisping up and the braised artichokes soft and flavorful, I was ready to serve dinner. I threw together the arugula salad and a chipotle fry sauce to round things out. And served it with a glass of AtoZ Chardonnay. Which I really love and was really delicious with the chickpea fries in particular.

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