- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

W ithout fail, at the end of each of my cooking classes, students raise their hands to ask about dishes that can be made in advance. Everyone, from restaurateurs to caterers to home cooks, loves food that can be completely prepared ahead with no last-minute kitchen angst.

I certainly am among the legions who appreciate such recipes, especially when entertaining. And, of all the seasons of the year, summer lends itself best to make-ahead creations.

Artichokes with a potato, bacon and chive filling, a recent addition to my repertoire, definitely fall into this category. This week during a spell of warm weather, I cooked artichokes, cooled them, then scooped out the fuzzy chokes.

Diced cooked potatoes, crispy bits of bacon and chopped shallots all dressed in a piquant mustard vinaigrette made an irresistible filling. The artichokes zipped to the top of my favorites list when I discovered that they held up beautifully for a couple of hours after they were fully assembled.

The stuffed vegetables became the centerpiece of a light weekend lunch. Arranged on salad plates with small ramekins of vinaigrette at their sides, the artichokes made a striking appearance.

First we ate the potato salad that was nestled in the center. Then we pulled off leaves and dipped them in the sauce. A crispy baguette or a loaf of crusty country bread, a platter of thinly sliced prosciutto and a bowl of cherry tomatoes could complete the main-course offerings, while a platter of cheese and fruit could end the menu.

These artichokes also could be offered as a first course for a summer dinner or partnered with grilled lamb or chicken as an accompaniment. However you use them, you’ll be pleased that the artichokes will be ready and waiting when you need them.

Artichokes with potato, bacon and chive filling

4 medium artichokes (about 8 ounces each)

3/4 pound redskin potatoes

1 3-ounce piece bacon or 3 ounces thick-sliced bacon

½ cup olive oil plus extra for sauteing bacon

¼ cup chopped shallots

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped chives

Bring a large pot of water to boil over medium-high heat. While water is coming to a boil, cut off and discard stems from artichokes so they will sit upright without wobbling. Place each artichoke on its side and, using a sharp knife, cut off and discard about 3/4 inch of the top. With scissors, trim and discard sharp tips from artichoke leaves.

Place artichokes in boiling water, cover with lid slightly ajar and cook until artichoke bottoms are tender when pierced with a knife and leaves around base can be pulled off easily, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove and drain artichokes upside down on a dinner plate until cool enough to handle.

While artichokes are cooling, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Peel potatoes and cut into 3/4-inch dice. Add potatoes and a generous teaspoon of salt to pan. Cook until tender but not mushy, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain in a colander, then transfer to a mixing bowl.

If using a whole piece of bacon, cut into ½-inch dice. If using sliced bacon, cut each strip into ½-inch lengths. Add enough olive oil to a medium skillet to just lightly coat the bottom. When hot, add bacon and saute, stirring, until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels then add, along with shallots, to bowl containing potatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Gradually whisk in ½ cup olive oil. Pour ¼ cup of the sauce over potato mixture and toss well to mix. Stir in chives. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired.

Arrange artichokes upright. Spread the leaves of each one open and remove and discard some of the pale green center leaves covering the fuzzy chokes. Using a spoon, scoop out and discard the fuzzy chokes. Salt and pepper the cavities lightly, then divide potato mixture evenly among artichokes. (Artichokes can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Leave at cool room temperature and whisk sauce well before using.)

To serve, arrange an artichoke on each of four salad plates. Divide remaining sauce among 4 small ramekins or bowls and place beside artichokes on salad plates. Serve artichokes with forks for eating the potato bacon filling. Then pull leaves off with your hands and dip in the sauce. Makes 4 servings.


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