Baked Ricotta with Swiss Chard, Preserved Lemon, and Artichokes
Paolo’s, San Jose, CA
This springtime appetizer combines the flavors of several Mediterranean cuisines: preserved lemons are a specialty of Morocco and Tunisia, artichokes are popular in Italy and the south of France, and basil, tomato, and olive oil are…well…a Mediterranean holy trinity of sorts. Each of the components can be made a day or two in advance and reheated to serve. Preserved lemons are available from Middle Eastern specialty stores or can be made at home if you have a week or two to let them cure.
- 2 medium artichokes
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 lemons, cut into quarters
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
- 1/2 medium onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Pepper to taste
- 2 leaves Swiss chard, stems removed
- 8 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 wedges preserved lemon, rinsed
- 1 Roma tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 10 large leaves basil, finely chopped
To prepare the artichokes, combine the water, wine, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium bowl. Squeeze the lemons into the water and drop the rinds in, too. Set aside. To clean the artichokes, hold them with the stems facing you and the leaves pointed outward. Begin removing the outer leaves by pulling them back toward you while pressing down with your thumb on the very base of the leaf. The majority of the leaf should snap off, leaving the meaty end intact. Continue to do this, working your way around the artichoke, until you reach the very pale and tender interior. Cut the remaining top off about 1/2 inch from the base. With a metal spoon, scoop out the hairy center (the choke) and the prickly purple leaves until the top of the heart is visible and clean. Using a sharp paring knife, trim off any dark green, tough fibers around the outside of the artichoke. Peel and trim the stems, being careful to keep them attached to the base. Cut the artichoke in half, crosswise through the stem, and place in the bowl with the water and wine mixture.
Using an 8-inch square of cheesecloth and some string, make an herb sachet with the thyme, bay leaves, garlic cloves, and black peppercorns. Heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil in a 2-quart Dutch oven. Add the carrot, onion, and herb sachet and sauté for about 3 minutes. Lift the artichokes out of the soaking liquid and add to the pan. Sauté for an additional 3 minutes. Discard the lemons from the artichoke soaking solution and add the solution to the pan to cover the artichokes completely (add more water if necessary). Bring to a simmer, cover the pan tightly, and cook until the artichokes are tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the ricotta mixture. Preheat the oven to 300ºF and butter 4 standard-size ramekins. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the Swiss chard for 1 minute, until soft. Remove, drain, and finely chop. In a small bowl combine the ricotta, egg, parsley, and Parmesan cheese with the chopped Swiss chard and mix until blended. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Divide evenly among the 4 ramekins. Set the ramekins in a baking dish just large enough to hold them and fill with water until it comes 3/4 up the sides of the ramekins. Place in the preheated oven and bake until set, about 30 to 40 minutes. The top of the ricotta mixture will have turned a light golden color. Remove from the water bath and cool slightly. The recipe can be prepared a day or two in advance up to this point.
To finish, clean away any interior pulp of the preserved lemon and finely dice the rind. Place one artichoke half in each of four serving plates or bowls. Place a ladleful or two of their cooking liquid and all of the cooked carrots and onions in a small saucepan. Add the diced preserved lemon rind, tomato, and basil to the saucepan and heat just until warm. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon this mixture onto and around the artichoke halves. Run the tip of a paring knife around each ramekin and invert to unmold beside the artichoke.
6 to 8 servings