Heart of the Artichoke – Review

Editor’s note: Linda Avery returns with a look at David Tanis’ second cookbook, including a simple recipe perfect for spring: asparagus-scrambled eggs. Take a look for yourself.

The Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys
by David Tanis
Photos by Christopher Hirsheimer
Facts: Artisan, 344 pages, $35.00  (or $19.02 at Amazon)
Photos: 115
Recipes: Hundreds
Give to: Chez Panisse fans, avid home cooks, Slow Food members

The Heart of the Artichoke has been nominated for 2011 James Beard award in the category of “general cookbook.” The book will be competing against two strong contenders: Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cook Book: Classic Recipes for a New Century (reviewed here in December); and Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease by Rozanne Gold. (Note to self: find Radically Simple).

David Tanis, Chez Panisse’ head chef for six months a year, penned his second book “Artichoke” following the 2008 very popular and successful book A Platter of Figs. Don’t be mistaken and think the new effort is about cooking artichokes. There are only two simple recipes for this prickly thistle (yes, not a vegetable — it’s a flower) included in the book but the metaphor is poetic: “The artichoke is ripe with metaphor and parable possibilities. Getting past the thorns to the sweet center… Not at all like reaching up and harvesting a sweet peach, eating an artichoke requires a bit of work.”

Surprisingly, most of his recipes require just a little bit of work or planning – there aren’t columns of ingredients or special equipment necessary, just good home cooking. The yield of most recipes is for 4 to 6 people though his last chapter of festive occasion menus are for 12-20 and is dubbed “Simple Feasts for a Long Table”.

Perhaps he was in his home kitchen reflecting on his past when he jotted notes like Pasta for One, Eating Oatmeal or Hooray for Ziplock Bags. The recipes’ headnotes are wonderfully personal and help us know this accomplished but seemingly down-to-earth man who spends the time he’s not working at Chez Panisse in Paris hosting dinners and otherwise enjoying life.

By the time I got my hands on this book wild mushroom season was over but Tanis’ recipe called Wild Mushroom Ragout with Ziti continues to call to me – I’ll be patient and look forward to trying it in 6 months or so.

In the meantime, I thought I’d try a dish more appropriate for spring: Asparagus-Scrambled Eggs. Tanis tells us that he found the dish in Spain.

I grew up in an Italian-American household, and when my mother made asparagus and eggs I’d whine “you ruined it, ick, why not just eggs?” I didn’t mind potatoes and eggs or tomatoes and eggs, it was just the green stuff that was off-putting. Fortunately, my palate matured as did my appreciation for what I thought of as “old country” recipes. In our speedy-global-travel-and-internet-easy-access world, these simple recipes have now become everyday foods.

We had this dish on meatless-Fridays, but Tanis uses it in a menu with spring lamb, mashed potatoes, dandelion salad and strawberries for dessert — sounds as colorful as it would be delicious.

DAVID TANIS’ ASPARAGUS-SCRAMBLED EGGS

The French often begin a meal with soft scrambled eggs, oeufs brouilles. (In its ultimate rendition, the eggs are scrambled with black truffles.) But I actually discovered this dish in Spain, where it was made with wild asparagus. I love the combination of the bite of asparagus with the soft egg. Use skinny asparagus, or wild if you can find them. Cook this just before you sit down to eat: it’ll be ready in minutes.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
2 pounds asparagus
4 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
9 eggs, beaten
Several springs of mint and basil, leaves chopped

Method
1. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus. Cut the stalks into 1-inch lengths; if your asparagus are thick, halve the stalks lengthwise before cutting them. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the asparagus and chopped garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook until just done, about 2 minutes.

2. Remove the asparagus from the skillet and set aside. Heat the remaining butter in the same pan. Season the eggs with salt and pepper and add them to the pan. Stir gently until the eggs are barely set.

3. Fold in the asparagus, then spoon onto a warmed platter. Scatter chopped mint and basil on top.

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