Q.I left some originally gorgeous, expensive artichokes in the hydrator for several weeks. The tips of their leaves blackend; they looked inedible. Is there something salvageable there?
A. So long as rot does not extend to the heart of the artichoke, the heart is still good. That is, after all, what you're paying for anyway since the leaves (actually petals) are but a fibrous prelude to eating the heart.
You can turn a blackened thistle into an attractive, tasty artichoke bottom simply by paring away the leaves. Holding the thistle in your less skilled hand stem-up, begin cutting away the bottom leaves. Do not cut too deeply into the heart, as the base of each leaf is very succulent and tender. Rotate the artichoke and cut away the leaves until all the leaves around the sides are gone. Now a simple cross-cut will remove all but the bases of the remaining leaves and the choke in the center. Trim off any fibrous portions of the stem remaining at the bottom of the heart.
Rub a lemon half around the cut edges and plunge the artichoke heart into salted boiling water. Cook until fork-tender, drain and, when cool, pull off the remaining choke as well as any bits of leaves (bases) still remaining.
Cooked artichoke bottoms are handy sauce holders for steaks and broiled or poached fish. Diced artichokes saute'ed in clarified butter make an excellent omelet. They are also an excellent complement to fried potatoes (diced potatoes deep-fried, then finished in butter).
Q. Several times, you have mentioned the importance of adequate gluten to obtain a bread (such as rye and whole wheat) of sufficient volume and open grain. Would the addition of gluten flour be the appropriate way to ensure sufficient protein in the dough?
A. It would be if you were dealing with commercial equipment. However, in the home kitchen, such a concentrated source of wheat proteins, which do not absorb water readily, would probably not develop much gluten. A much better idea is to use half bread flour and half of the other kind of flour. Bread flour is 14 percent protein (approximately), and doughs containing it should be kneaded 15 minutes.
Q. Despite several attempts, I am unable to reproduce the hard, crusty dinner rolls such as those we had on a recent trip aboard the QE2. Is there a special recipe and set of instructions for producing these?
A. The recipe for such rolls is the simplest of all bread recipes. The secret to their production is to use the proper equipment -- a good mixer and oven, neither of which will be found in the standard home kitchen. However, if you follow this recipe, you should obtain hard, crusty rolls. HARD, CRUSTY ROLLS (Makes 1 dozen)
4 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4-ounce envelope active-dry yeast
1 cup ice-cold water
Cornmeal or semolina for sprinkling
Place bread flour and salt in mixing bowl. Measure out water in 1 cup measuring cup. Add pinch of sugar and stir in the yeast. Let sit until foamy, then add to the flour and salt in the mixing bowl. Mix in the ice-cold water to make a firm dough, turn out on the board and knead vigorously for at least 15 minutes. Do NOT add flour while kneading even if the dough sticks to the board. After about 10 minutes of kneading, the wheat proteins have absorbed sufficient water that the dough stops sticking to your hands and to the bread board.
Return dough to mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic film. Allow to proof (rise) at room temperature for about 1 hour. The dough should have barely doubled in bulk. Remove from bowl, fold under the edges to make a hemisphere (looks like a puffball), let rest another 5 minutes and cut into 2-ounce portions.
Roll each of these portions into a sphere by placing them, one at a time, on the board and cupping your hand over them. Roll your hand around in a circular motion so that the dough piece will revolve in the hollow of your hand to become a perfect sphere.
Set each dough sphere seam-side-down on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal or with semolina. Space the rolls at least 1 1/2 inches apart. Proof in a warm, moist spot (a cupboard over the stove, for example) until fully doubled in bulk. The rolls should be airy and collapse slightly if touched with a finger. Brush with water and sprinkle lightly with flour. Bake 10 to 15 minutes at 450 degrees.