Posted by: briellethefirst | March 15, 2011

Artichokes


GO ARTICHOKES!!! OK, I don’t wave a pink and green flag for my school team and mascot anymore, but I’ll never stop boiling up the real thing for dinner. When I was a kid we looked forward to artichoke season and loved every meal with them. They made up most of the meal and Mom would make a casserole so we could fill up any empty spots left in out happy tummies. There was usually a lot of casserole left and never any artichoke. Back then they were cheap and easy peasant food, 15 or 20 cents apiece but now they’re expensive epicurean endeavors. If you’re familiar with them you understand and if you’ve never tried one, you really need to. I know they look scary and they are prickly but I promise, they aren’t from another planet, they are simpler to deal with than they look and they are SO worth it! Last night I only had 2, one for me and one for my daughter and the 3 and 6 year olds surprised us and asked to try them. Kenzie wasn’t so thrilled but Andrew loved them. They filled up with fish fingers.

First, choose one for each person unless you are a very sharing couple and will be having more wonderfulness for dinner, but even then I’d get one for each of you. Pass up any with loose leaves and a pointy end. You want a good, fat, round bud with tight-ish leaves and a rather flat end where the leaves kind-of turn in. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. If you have a choice between one with a darker cut-end and a lighter cut-end take the lighter one, it’s fresher.

Once you get it home and it’s time to cook it’s easy. Cut off the end of the stem. Traditionally it’s cut very short so it can sit up straight on the plate, but I like having as much as I can so I leave the stem long-ish and peel the tough skin. strip off the bottom few leaves and rinse well. Many people use kitchen shears to cut off the prickly ends of the leaves but I don’t bother since they’ll soften when they’re boiled and the sooner you get them in the water the sooner you can eat! Put them in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cover loosely with a lid. Boil for about 30 minutes or until you can easily poke a fork in the bottom. Pull them out, let them drain.

Serve with a pat of butter on the side of the plate. When they are cool enough to touch, peel off the outside leaves and one by one, wiping each one over the butter and scraping off the thick inside end (that was connected to the plant) against your teeth. Discard the rest of the leaf on the side of your plate or a plate set out for them. When you get down far enough you can nip the tender ends off the leaves, and when they get too small and thin (just covering the choke) you take a butter knife or spoon and scoop out the fuzzy middle, discarding it with the rest of the leaves and leaving a small bowl in the heart of the artichoke. Spread butter inside and enjoy.

Artichokes can be served hot or cold. Hot they are usually served with softened or melted butter or garlic butter or hollandaise sauce. Cold artichokes are yummy with mayonnaise, either plain or flavoured or hollandaise. Enjoy appetizers while you wait for them to cook, serve some home-made bread and follow-up with a salad if you’re still hungry. Water or wine go best with artichokes and don’t even think about milk, it just tasted nasty while you’re eating artichokes. Save it for the lovely chocolate cake desert. Don’t put the leaves down the garbage disposer in your sink! They will break it! Put them in the compost heap instead or give them to your chickens. If you don’t have compost or chickens just throw them away.

Want to grow artichokes? They’re easy and pretty but big. I put them in the east end of my garden where the afternoon sun bakes everything else into dust. The leaves are big, silvery-grey-green and spread about 2 to 3 feet from the stem, shading the ground and the plants get 3 to 5 feet tall so they can make a lovely background plant in an odd corner. While the general advice is that they should be grown in well fertilized, well-drained soil and given plenty of water I’ve had surprising success with moderately rich clay soil and negligent watering habits. It is  a big thistle, just a weed, after all, and the flower is what you eat. They flower in the spring and fall. The first will be the biggest and the next ones will be smaller. In cold areas where they would die in the winter freeze you can grow them in big pots and over-winter them inside.

 

In the garden

In the garden

Closer

Closer

If you’re feeling adventurous you can pick the later ones when they’re small and boil to eat them whole as a side dish or in a salad or pickle them or you can just let them bloom and enjoy them in the garden. They even make nice dried displays when you cut them just as they reach their peak and hang them upside-down in the shade to dry. And by the way, I wasn’t kidding…I went to Scottsdale Community College so my school mascot really was an artichoke.

 

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