White Bean, Artichoke, and Tomato Gratin

artichokes-280x420Any recipe devoted to artichoke hearts involves the terribly boring and even slightly dangerous job of bending back and pulling off those prickly leaves. After wrestling with some artichokes during the first test of this recipe, Andrea Hagan, the backup recipe tester on this book, said, “Why don’t we just steam the whole vegetable and then use the part we want from then on?” Brilliant. It’s so much easier—and less injurious—to pull off the leaves after they have been cooked. And you’re much more likely to recycle cooked leaves than raw ones, cold artichoke leaves with vinaigrette or flavored mayonnaise are delicious. I think I may have performed the classical trim down of this vegetable for the last time.The rest of the components of this recipe—white beans, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil—make a happy Mediterranean marriage with the artichokes. You will love this dish as an entrée or even as a side dish to accompany a meat dish.

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern, cleaned and picked over
Kosher salt to taste
2 bay leaves, preferably Turkish
I tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
4 to 6 medium artichokes
3/4 cup vegetable stock, preferably homemade
Additional kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Place the beans in a soup pot or kettle and pour in enough salted cold water to cover by 3 inches. Add the bay leaves and bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer, partially covered, until tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Drain the beans and discard the bay leaves.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the tomatoes and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme and rosemary and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat.

Place a steamer basket in a large soup pot with a lid. Add 1 inch of water to the pot. Cut the stems off the artichokes and place the artichokes pointed sides up in the steamer. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cover. Steam the artichokes until the leaves pull off easily, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the artichokes from the pot and cool to room temperature.

Pull the outer leaves off the artichokes and reserve for another use. Remove and discard the inner leaves until you get down to the tender smallest leaves. Cut the artichokes lengthwise into quarters. Use a spoon to scrape away the hairy chokes. Cut each trimmed artichoke quarter in half.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a 2-quart casserole dish, mix the beans, the tomato mixture, the artichoke hearts, and the vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the bread crumbs with the Parmigiano-Reggiano in a small bowl. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the beans and drizzle on the melted butter. Place the casserole in the oven and bake, uncovered, until the top is lightly browned, about 30 minutes.
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