“Life is like eating artichokes, you have got to go through so much to get so little.” - Thomas Aloysius Dorgan
Another busy day at work today with a couple of meetings, some staff interviews, lots of paperwork and of course the usual emails, telephone calls and I even popped out at lunchtime to pay some bills. Before I knew it, it was time to go home. Although the weather started out wet and cool in the morning, it fined up by lunchtime so it was quite good to walk out into the sunshine for a little while. A good weekend is predicted with temperatures climbing to the high teens and some welcome spring sunshine.
have started to appear in the greengrocers and despite the fuss needed to prepare them they are a wonderful vegetable, whether eaten raw in salads or cooked in a variety of ways. A native of the Mediterranean, the artichoke can be grown as a perennial or annual crop. It is a member of the thistle tribe of the daisy family (Compositae
). In full growth, the plant spreads to cover an area about 1.5 metres in diameter and reaches a height of 1.5 metres. It has long, arching, deeply serrated leaves that give the plant a highly decorative appearance. The wild artichoke can be very spiny, with thorny leaves and buds. It produces artichokes that are smaller, but tastier than the cultivated variety.
The 'vegetable' that we eat is the plant’s flower bud. If these buds are allowed to open, the blossoms can measure up to 15 centimetres in diameter and are a beautiful violet-blue color. The size of the bud depends upon where it is located on the plant. The largest are the terminal buds produced at the end of the long central stems. These are the ones you are most likely to see if you go past an artichoke field. The lateral buds are smaller and lower on the stem.
The artichoke is not suited to people wanting fast food or a quick meal! Some preparation is required, but it is well worth it. Artichokes have a unique, nutty flavour as well as having great health benefits. One medium-sized artichoke is a good source of vitamin C, folate, dietary fibre, magnesium and potassium. It’s low in sodium, fat-free and a dieter’s delight at only 25 calories each. New studies have shown that artichokes contain an unusual amount of antioxidants and in a study done by the United States Department of Agriculture, artichokes rank as the number one vegetable in antioxidant count. Among the most powerful phytonutrients in artichokes are cynarin and silymarin, which have strong protective effects on the liver.
Most people cook the whole artichoke, then serve it in a dish with some dressing on the side. The artichoke is grasped with the fingers, each petal is stripped off, dipped in dressing and then its bottom fleshy part is bitten and the petal drawn through the teeth, trapping the flesh in the mouth. Eventually one reaches the more substantial and delectable heart, which is also eaten with the dressing. Lightly cooked and dressed artichokes also make excellent additions to stir-fries, pizzas, antipasto and pasta dishes.
The way that we have always prepared artichokes at home is to buy many of them when in season, usually in large cartons of 30-40 pieces. They are cheaper that way and one can then prepare them to keep for several months. This way, one has to clean them raw. It is great fun getting a few people together and having an artichoke cleaning lunch! First one needs a large bowl of ice-cold water in which several lemons have been juiced. Then the fun starts. The outer petals are discarded and then one peels off a petal and nibbles on the fleshy bottom, discarding the rest. This continues until one gets to the young and tender petals at the heart, The stem is peeled and trimmed to about two centimetres and the artichoke heart is quartered lengthwise parallel to the stem. The central ‘choke’ part is scraped out and discarded. One then has neat, clean quarters of artichoke heart with attached small piece of stem that must be placed in the water quickly to prevent them going black. This is continued until all the artichokes have been prepared. One feels rather full after this, as nibbling on the flesh on each petal adds up quite considerably!
The artichoke quarters can be eaten raw in salads, after chopping them up. A good combination is chopped lettuce hearts, artichokes, spring onions, chopped dill and chopped hard-boiled eggs. A simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper completes the dish. If the artichokes are not to be consumed raw, they must be blanched. Not cooked thoroughly, just parboiled. They are then drained thoroughly and can be frozen laid flat in plastic bags in convenient meal-size portions. They last for several months in the freezer. Another way of preserving them is to drain them well after parboiling, place them in sterilised glass jars and cover them with olive oil.
If one wishes to use the parboiled artichoke hearts one can add them to all sorts of recipes. For example, one may chop them up, sauté them in butter and make a delicious omelette with them. They can be used in quiches, pizzas and pasta (especially with creamy sauces). A traditional Greek dish is a spicy stewed lamb ragout to which artichokes are added in the final stages of cooking. Another dish is roast chicken stuffed with a mixture of sautéed artichoke heart pieces, chopped sweet yellow capsicums and field mushroom pieces.