Artichokes, fennel, and sweet onions braised in wine

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I traveled to Sicily in 2011 around Easter. It was a big family trip with my boyfriend’s brother’s family and the parents. We stayed in Agrigento in the south of the island, in a big house over looking the sea. We visited the ancient greek temples, ate at some great local restaurants, dipped my feet in the sea (only once. It was too cold for me, but the boys didn’t seem to mind. Brrr!), soaked up the sunshine a little too much and ended up having lobster legs.

It was definitely an eye-opening culinary experience. I took my own knife as usual, thinking I would be cooking a couple of times only. But after seeing all the incredible produce at the supermarket, fruit&veg stores and roadside vendors, I cooked many more meals than I intended. It was a quite a challenge to cook for 9 people with limited kitchen space and utensils – thank god I took my knife and Microplane-, but really, it was like being in heaven for me to be able to get my hands on the fresh vegetables and fruits, delicious cheeses and cured meats. The artichokes were in abundance at the time. Whenever I looked, there were artichokes being sold 20 cents each. I even found some at a bakery (?!)

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Although you would never find an artichoke for 20 cents unless you are in Italy, the Italian vendor at the farmer’s market in Leipzig has fresh and inexpensive artichokes, sold at 80 cents-1 euro each. I saw them yesterday and couldn’t help myself to buy a few. This dish I created really reminded me of Sicily. The artichoke hearts, fennel wedges, and sweet Calabrian sweet red onions (cipolla rosa) are braised gently in dry vermouth, anchovy, lemon slices, coriander seeds, and Kalamata olives. The melange of these vegetables and wine create a lovely savoury broth that you can mop up with some bread, or even served with couscous if you like. The leftover broth can be used to poach eggs too.

If you don’t know how to trim artichokes, click on the link I provided in the recipe. It’s not hard at all and once you get the hang of it, they can be trimmed in minutes. To choose artichokes, make sure the leaves (or really, they are petals) are tightly closed and the head should be firm. Another trick is to rub the artichoke between your hands. If they make a squeaky sound, then you know the artichoke has been harvested not long ago.

Enjoy! xo-A.

Artichokes, fennel, and sweet onions braised in wine

Note: Vegans, you know the drill; leave out the anchovies and just add a couple more olives. They will give enough depth to the dish. 

Serves 2 generously as a main dish

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 anchovy fillet, finely chopped

1/2 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed

3 medium sized globe artichokes, trimmed down to hearts. Halved. (Click here if you don’t know how)

250g sweet red onions (cipolla rosa) or regular red onions, cut into bite-sized wedges

1 fennel (about 200-250g) cut into 1.5cm wedges (save the fonds for garnish)

180ml dry vermouth or white wine

180ml light vegetable stock

1-2 tsp salt

8 Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped

6 peppercorns, lightly crushed

2 thin slices lemon

4 mint leaves, finely chopped

2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Fruity olive oil, to serve

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and fry for about 5 minutes until they start to become soft. Add the anchovies and coriander seeds and sautee for 1 minute.

2. Add the artichokes, fennel, and onions. Sautee for about 2 minutes.

3. Add the wine, water or stock, lemon slices, peppercorns, olives and salt. Bring to the boil and turn the heat down to medium-low. With the lid slightly ajar, braise gently for about 25-30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the herbs and fennel fonds, if using. Check for seasoning.

4. Serve the vegetables and a small ladle of braising liquid with a drizzle of fruity olive oil. This is best eaten with some crusty bread on the side.

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