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Fresh Artichokes

This wonderful thistle flower is a labor-intensive perennial grown commercially in California. Artichokes make everything you eat after them taste better, because they contain a substance called cynarine, which makes other food taste sweet.

Selection and preparation:

In the store, you see two main shapes of large globe artichokes, round and cone shaped. All things being equal, I prefer the cone-shaped ones; to me the hearts are larger and the meat has a more distinctive artichoke flavor. One per person is usual, but for a large group, 1/2 an artichoke, split, with the choke removed, and filled with oil and vinegar dipping sauce makes a luxurious vegetable.

Baby artichokes are smaller, less than 2 inches, and the bristles have not matured. You get about 3/4 pound per person. Steamed or boiled, eaten by pinching at the top and biting the bottom out, "choke" and all. Yummy.

Marks of a promising artichoke:
Heavy for its size
Bright green color leaves and stem, not black or yellow or dry looking
Leaves are tightly closed
No wormholes or mildew in the base
No brown circle inside the stem
When you squeeze gently around the base, it feels solid and does not have any give
The largest artichokes, even when fresh, are sometimes woody or pithy

Wash the artichokes thoroughly, spreading the leaves a little to make sure there is no dirt in there. Rinse well, turn upside down to drain.

Cut or trim artichokes with a stainless steel knife to reduce discoloration. Whack off the base so it will sit flat. Pull off the shrimpy little leaves right next to the stem. Trim off the top 1/2" or so straight across with your sharp knife. If you have time, or plan to stuff the artichokes, you can also trim off the leaf barbs with your kitchen scissors- holding the stem end in the palm of one hand, trim the leaves straight across, rotate, trim, rotate, until done. Put straight into water that has a dollop of vinegar or lemon juice in it, until you finish all the artichokes- they should all start cooking at the same time.

Artichoke bonus:
The top 2"-3" of the stalk can also be cooked with the artichokes, peeled, and marinated or chopped to use in salads or casseroles. Trim off the dry end of the stem before cooking and the fibrous outside layers after cooling. Cardoon is a sister of the artichoke plant in which the ribs of the plant are eaten, tastes very much like artichoke heart.

Cooking Fresh Artichokes:
The color oxidizes or darkens unless the cooking water has a little acid added. To reduce darkening, add lemon, onion, wine or vinegar to the cooking water, and DO NOT use an aluminum pan. No matter how it is cooked, an artichoke is done when a leaf pulls off when you try to lift the artichoke out by the leaf. Or you can stick a thin, pointed stainless steel knife into the top-middle and push straight down. If it goes all the way down easily, the artichoke's done! Drain upside down.

Stovetop, boiled
Bring the largest pot of water to a boil, put 2-3" water in it. Slice in a lemon, half an onion, a drizzle of olive oil and some whole peppercorns. Add the artichokes, cover, cook about 35-50 minutes until done. The water is bitter- don't use it for vegetable broth.

Stovetop, steamed Steam is actually hotter than boiling water, so it is a little quicker, as long as you don't peek too much.

Trim as usual, cook on high 4 hours in the crockpot.

Baked artichokes
These are partially boiled or steamed, about 15 minutes, choke removed, stuffed, and then baked. A real labor of love, but delicious. See the recipe below.

Microwave (Bachelor) artichoke
1 large artichoke takes about 12-15 minutes on high. 2 take about 20-25 minutes. And no steamy kitchen.
To microwave, trim the artichoke. Wash the artichoke well, hold under the water right side up, and fill with water- do not drain it. Put the artichoke into a microwave-safe bowl just a little bigger than the artichoke, to which you already put a couple tablespoons of water, a big slice of lemon, and a little olive oil, garlic, sliced onion, and Italian seasonings to taste. Cover tightly with microwave- safe plastic wrap. Microwave on high. Check when the minimum time is up, watch out for steam when you unwrap it. Rewrap tightly if you need to cook further. Drain by turning upside down briefly when finished.

Traditional Dips for Artichokes
1) melted butter, usually with lemon
2) Hollandaise sauce
3) mayonnaise or curried mayonnaise

Vegan Dips for Artichokes
1) In the blender, puree soft/silken tofu, salt, mustard, fresh garlic to taste, nutritional yeast, a touch of cider or rice wine vinegar, and as much horseradish as your guests will tolerate.
2) or use tahini, garlic, honey, shoyu, and a little lemon juice or rice vinegar.

Eating an artichoke
Pull a leaf from the artichoke, dip it in the sauce, then hold the fleshy bit at the bottom between teeth and pull. This action scrapes the flesh from the leaf. Eat the outer leaves until encountering the very thin inner leaves that cover the choke. These smallest leaves may be bitten right off below the little barb, or set aside. The choke is the plants natural protection against foraging cows: it is spiky-looking, and reminds me of a fur ball. Scoop out the choke with a spoon. The portion that is left is the artichoke heart. Make sure that everyone who is eating gets a portion of the heart. It is the sweetest and tastiest part of the artichoke.

Baked Artichokes

preheat oven to 400 °

whole artichokes
buttered dry bread crumbs
Italian herbs
lemon, olive oil, onion, wine, etc as chosen to season boiling water

Bring water to a boil, then reduce the heat, add artichokes, cover and cook gently for about 20 minutes or until just tender; test the base of each artichoke with the point of a knife. Leave the artichokes to cool, placing them upside down to drain off any liquid.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. To create a central cavity in each artichoke, pull out the small inner leaves, then use teaspoon to scrape out the fibrous choke. Place the artichokes in a baking dish and stuuf the senters and between the leaves with a mixture of buttered dry bread crumbs, Parmesan and Italian herbs. Or crack an egg into the center of each one. Season generously with salt and pepper and bake in the oven 20 minutes for crumbs or 5 minutes until the eggs are lightly set.

You can also split the artichokes from top to bottom, scoop out the chokes and stuff them, and bake as above, serving a half for each serving. Works especially well when the larger artichokes are on sale.


Cold Marinated Artichokes

freshly cooked artichokes
Italian dressing or vinegarette
sliced onions

Drain and stand up the warmed artichokes in a casserole, spreading the tops. Tuck thin slices of onion into and in between the artichokes. Pour copious amounts of dressing into each artichoke, until the dressing in the casserole stands covering the bases of the artichokes. Cover and chill overnight or until needed.


Artichoke Olive Condite

About 4 quarts

Except for the Italian green beans, which I added because I wanted a lighter salad combo, this is a classic olive salad for antipasto and sandwiches. I use it for salad with sliced tomatoes or over green salad, to stuff veggie enchiladas, and for the famous muffaletta sandwich. It keeps 4 months in the refrigerator, if your friends don't beg it away from you.
32 ounces artichoke hearts
30 ounces Italian green beans, OPTIONAL
1 cup cauliflower florets
13 ounces salad olives with pimento, crushed
13 ounces ripe olives, crushed or sliced
8 ounces drained, roasted red peppers and/or whole tiny sweet pepperoncini
6 ounces large capers
3 cups braised celery, about 12 large stalks, cross cut (may substitute julienne or thinly sliced carrots for part of the celery)
2 cups fruity olive oil plus enough oil to cover
1-2 tablespoons Italian seasoning or oregano
10 ounces cooked tiny pearl onions, OPTIONAL
zest of one orange, minced, OPTIONAL
garlic, OPTIONAL
1-3 anchovy fillets, OPTIONAL
wine vinegar, OPTIONAL

Peel the orange with a vegetable peeler or orange zester, being careful to remove only the zest of the orange rind and none of the white pith. Chop the zest into tiny, tiny dice. Smash the garlic clove with the side of a large knife to remove the skin and chop into very tiny dice. Mix together the orange zest, garlic, pepper, Italian seasoning and anchovy fillets and 1/4 cup olive oil to let their flavors mingle.
Starting with the cauliflower, blanch each vegetable until barely no longer raw, drain, set aside. Celery, carrots, cauliflower florets. If using frozen pearl onions, artichoke hearts or Italian beans, boil these till just done and drain. The blanching water can be set aside for a vegetable broth base.
Drain, rinse and crush salad olives with pimento. Drain, rinse and slice or crush ripe olives. Drain and chunk up the roasted red peppers, drain the whole tiny pepperoncini.
Put the capers in a strainer and dip them into the boiling water to desalt them slightly. Look over the artichokes, remove and discard any woody ones, if they were packed in brine or vinegar, dip them as you did the capers to desalt. If using canned Italian beans, drain them.
Mix all the veggies in a large bowl. Pour on the orange-garlic-anchovy oil. Pack into 3-4 quart jars and pour on a half cup of fruity olive oil, plus enough good vegetable oil to cover the vegetables. You may want to add a few tablespoons of good wine vinegar- I usually don't.
Store up to 4 months in the refrigerator, if you can keep your friends from running off with it. Bring the olive salad to room temperature before using in sandwiches.