I can remember my first buttery bite of artichoke heart. I was in third or four grade, sitting at our white formica dinner table (that is now my work table in my ceramic studio!) in our dining room on 2nd Street in Brooklyn, NY. Classic 70’s wallpaper – a mustard yellow with birds and butterflies, if memory serves. I am sure I had a disgusted look on my face as I watched my parents dip leaves into a ramekin of butter and skim off the flesh of the inner part of the leaf with their teeth. What the heck are they eating?? And they were probably telling me how delicious it was while making audible mmming sounds as they ate their artichoke, coercing me to try a bite. Then I witnessed a very strange thing for a 4th grader. After eating the bulk of the leaves, they got to a part where the leaves got smaller and smaller and less fleshy. As they pealed it away, they came to a strange hairy center, which they plucked out with delight. They were coming to the treasured part. With a knife, they cleaned about the outer edges and there it was. The heart. It was probably the ramekin of melted butter that made me feel daring that night. As my mom cut her artichoke heart into quarters, I slowly pressed my fork down and the picked the heart, dunked it into the butter and swirled it around, getting a good covering and then popped it into my mouth. It was heavenly! Somewhat sweet, a little salty from the butter, and maybe to most delicious thing I had tasted to date. A love affair began. The leaves are good on their own, but that heart. You have to work to get to it but it is worth every bit of effort.
I love eating whole artichokes with that ramekin of butter, ( and garlic) but I was looking for a new artichoke recipe. The Wednesday Chef is a great blog. She reviews recipes in the New York and LA Times and had a recipe by Maria Speck that I knew I had to try. We were having a dinner party in a few days with some friends from Denver who were bringing a whole bunch of crab legs and I needed something to go with it. I made a nice big mixed green salad with fennel and pomegranate seeds as well as two of these tarts, since there were 14 of us. It is hard to compete with crab legs, but the tart was a hit. I love the polenta crust and it held together very nicely.
Artichoke Tart with Polenta Crust
Make one 10-inch tart
(recipe Adapted from Maria Specks Ancient Grains for Modern Meals)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups water
1/2- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups polenta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A bowl of cold water for spreading the polenta
1 cup mascarpone (or plain whole fat yogurt)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces artichoke hearts, canned or frozen
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Put a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375 F.
Bring the broth and water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly, and continue whisking for 30 seconds. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon every few minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. In a bowl, mix together the eggs, cheese and pepper. Add it to the polenta and stir until well combined.
Grease a pie or cake pan with olive oil. A 10″ pan works well but if you only have an 8″ pan, you will either have a thicker crust, or don’t use all the polenta. (It makes a nice snack). Have a bowl of cold water ready. Spoon the polenta into the pan and press it out, pushing it up the sides. Dipping a wooden spoon in cold water really helps move and smooth the polenta. The crust is going to have a rustic look.
Whisk the mascarpone, eggs, green onions, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper together until well-combined. Place the quartered artichoke hearts evenly over the polenta crust. Sprinkle the goat cheese on top of the artichokes and pour the mascarpone filling evenly over the artichokes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top turns golden brown. Let is cool for about 30 minutes and serve.
The tart can be prepared up to one day ahead.