When I eat alone, I like to snack on artichokes.
Come springtime, as soon as the displays in the supermarket produce aisle feature those lovely pale green globes, I get out the steamer basket and ready my kitchen shears. During artichoke season, if you open my fridge, chances are you'll find at least one whole cooked artichoke sitting on the top shelf.
I like to sit down at my computer with an artichoke (plain, still cold) while I check my e-mail or organize my notes from class. There's a distinct pleasure in peeling away each leaf and scraping off the edible bit at the end with my teeth. And then there's a sense of satisfaction, almost accomplishment, when I look at the pile of discarded leaves.
When I reach the heart, however, I'll put the rest of the artichoke in Tupperware. Plain and cold is not a good way to eat an artichoke heart. It may be the best bit, but it's not suitable for snacking.
The artichoke heart can wait until dinner. Thinly sliced and sauteed in olive oil with garlic and lemon, tossed with homemade potato gnocchi, the heart has a pleasure entirely distinct from that of the leaves.
It comes with another pleasure, too: if I cook too much gnocchi, I can snack on the cold leftovers straight from the serving dish later.
Potato Gnocchi with Artichoke, Garlic, and Lemon
The artichoke may be prepared the day before.
(Serves one. Extra gnocchi will freeze.)
Take a artichoke, and cut off the stems so that it'll sit flat. Trim the leaves, and use a spoon to scrape out as much of the choke as you can. Put in a lemon wedge and a peeled clove of garlic in the cavity.
Put the artichoke in a pot and add a half-inch of water. Simmer for twenty to thirty minutes - the bottom should still have some resistance when pierced with a fork. Remove from the pot and set aside to cool.
To make the gnocchi, take a pound of boiling potatoes (Yukon Golds are good), peel, cube, and cook in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and allow to cool.
Put the cooled potatoes in a mixing bowl and mash with a fork. (Or put them through a food mill, if you have one.) Beat in one egg until the mixture is thick and creamy. Stir in one cup of flour and a half-teaspoon of salt. You should have a soft dough that is still a little on the sticky side.
Put a quarter-cup or so of flour on a clean countertop. Pinch off rounded teaspoon-size lumps of dough and roll them in the flour. Press on each side with the tines of a fork to create a grooved pattern. Place the gnocchi on baking trays. Gnocchi may be frozen at this point.
Remove the lemon and the garlic from the artichoke. Discard the lemon. Thinly slice the garlic. Set aside.
Cut away the artichoke leaves (you can eat them later) until you have just the heart. Trim away any stray bits of choke, and cut the heart into thin slices.
Heat olive oil in a pan over low heat, then add the garlic and the sliced artichoke heart. Cook until the garlic starts to smell fragrant and turns golden. Squeeze over the juice from half a lemon. Season with salt, and turn off the heat.
To cook the gnocchi, set a pot of salted water on to boil. Once it hits a rolling boil, turn it down to a rapid simmer. Cook the gnocchi ten at a time - when they float to the surface and the water turns foamy, they're done.
Add the cooked gnocchi to the pan with the artichokes. Toss gently. Serve immediately with a little grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Or top with a poached egg.)