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Cooking Off the Cuff: Artichoke Pasta 2.0

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It is hard to predict how much cooking or writing I'll be doing this week: It's time for that annoying cataract to be extracted from my left eye. (I was much more nervous about a recent visit to the dental hygienist for a cleaning, for what it's worth.)

So while I still have full use of all my senses, let me give a nice - and quite different - variation on last week's spaghetti with artichokes and capers. Jackie and I had it for dinner a few nights ago and enjoyed it every bit as much as version 1.0.

In this one, I replaced the piquancy of capers with softer, sweeter flavors (shallots), but not to the exclusion of a pleasing level of tartness from tomatoes (which also their share of sweetness) and from the small amount of lemon juice that clung to the artichokes from their anti-oxidation bath in acidulated water.

As in last week's dish, I'd trimmed and halved the small artichokes the day before (cooked with potatoes, they'd accompanied lamb from our favorite farmers' market shepherd), and the remaining half dozen were in the fridge submerged in a water and lemon juice mixture.

I began by choosing a skillet large enough to hold the vegetables and, eventually, the pasta. In it I sweated a very large shallot and a good-sized clove of garlic, both sliced thin, in plenty of olive oil with a sprinkle of salt. As these were softening, I drained the halved artichokes but did not pat them dry, and cut each half into three or four wedges, depending on size. I also diced a couple of ripe medium tomatoes (unpeeled in this instance). When the shallot and garlic were soft and aromatic, I added the artichokes to the skillet, then the tomatoes, along with a modest amount of rough-chopped fresh rosemary. After seasoning with salt and a generous dose of black pepper and stirring to combine, I cooked the mixture over medium heat until the artichokes were tender but still required chewing; I began with a lid on the skillet to let tomato juices begin to flow, and removed this after a couple of minutes to allow them to reduce. In effect, the artichokes steamed-simmered in the tomato juices and the few drops of lemony water they bore, which took about five minutes. Use your judgment about removing the lid: you want the mixture to be juicy enough to moisten the pasta, but not to be watery. If you wanted to, you could add a few tablespoons of white wine along with the artichokes and let it boil away before adding the tomatoes, but I wouldn't bother unless my tomatoes were unsettlingly sweet and needed help from the wine's acidity.

Oh yes, the pasta: Because the artichokes are cut in chunkier style than in last week's spaghetti dish, a short pasta makes a better spoonful. I used small penne (for some reason called Genovesini on the package I have in the drawer); any such shape will work nicely - including Pugliese-type orecchiette or cavatelli. I wouldn't use egg pasta here.

Finishing the dish involved the usual routine: Pasta quickly drained half a minute before done, then added to the skillet with the artichokes along with a quarter cup or so of its salty, slightly starchy cooking water. Seasoning checked (it should be peppery), then a small handful of grated pecorino (or parmesan - this dish can go either way, and without cheese it will be a good vegan option) added before a final check for moistness and a toss to combine. When it's turned into the serving bowl, you may want to sprinkle it with flavorful olive oil for extra aroma and lubrication; Jackie and I certainly did.

If you don't feel like eating pasta, you can spoon the artichoke mixture onto grilled bread or set it out on your special antipasto cart. In that case, serve it barely warm or at room temperature.

Artichoke Pasta 2.0