The artichoke is a member of the thistle family, a fact confirmed when one sees the purple blooms that match the pesky weeds in the garden. The edible part is actually the immature flower bud.
We in the United States can thank the French who imported them to New Orleans and the Spanish who brought them to California where nearly 100% of the artichoke crop is cultivated, mainly in Monterey County, where Castroville declares itself to be “The Artichoke Center of the World.”
What keeps more people from buying and cooking artichokes is the rather intimidating list of steps needed to get to the heart of the matter. First, if you plan to leave the artichoke uncooked, to stuff it, for example, you must prepare a bowl of water with the lemon juice into which you plunge the artichoke which will start to turn brown when cut. With a chef’s knife, cut off the top inch of the artichoke, and cut the stem flush with the base. Then you must deal with the thorns at the tips of the leaves which stagger in a spiral around the outside of the vegetable. It’s easier to use a pair of scissors to remove them.
If you are going to cook the artichoke, you can either boil, steam or microwave it. In this case, it isn’t necessary to de-thorn the leaves since they will soften during cooking. Some people prefer to remove the thorns anyway because they like the look of it. To boil it, stand it upright in a deep saucepan with 3 inches of boiling water to which oil, and lemon juice may be added. Cover and boil gently 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size, until the base can be easily pierced. Stand it upside down to drain. Steam an artichoke on a rack above an inch or two of boiling water, covered, for 25 to 45 minutes. For microwaving, set it upside down in a small glass bowl like a 2 cup glass measuring cup with 1/4 c. water, 1/2 t. each lemon juice and oil. Cover with plastic wrap and cook 6 to 7 minutes. Let stand covered 5 minutes.
To eat the artichoke, pull each leaf off, and, holding the cut end drag the bottom half of the leaf through your teeth, skimming the soft flesh into your mouth. Some people dip this in drawn butter or into a dipping sauce. You can find a variety of dip recipes at the California Artichoke Advisory board website. When you get to the fuzzy, purple “choke” scoop it out and discard it. Under it is the “heart”, the favorite part for some people, your truly included. It has a nutty, buttery flavor that can stand alone or be accompanied by a marinade, or sauce such as bearnaise.
I promised you a recipe using artichoke hearts and I will deliver. Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I found the recipe. I suspect it was from the “Everyday Food” magazine. We really enjoyed it and I passed the recipe on to my daughters who enjoyed it as well. It is easy and quick.
CHICKEN WITH ARTICHOKES AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES (serves 2)
2 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 T. flour
4 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and sliced
1T. and 1 t. olive oil
1/2 c. water or chicken broth
1/2 can artichoke hearts, in water, drained and cut in half
4 green onions , thinly sliced(I used more)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Prepared couscous, optional
1. Place the chicken between wet plastic wrap sheets. Pound carefully to 1/2 inch thickness.
2. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil on medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust lightly with flour, shaking off excess. Saute until golden brown and cooked through, 2-3 minutes per side if you pounded them thinly enough. Remove to plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
3. To the pan, add garlic, scallions, and the water or chicken broth. Bring to a boil, scraping up all the good browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add the artichokes, tomatoes and the rest of the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Return the chicken to the pan and cook, stirring until the sauce has been reduced slightly.
4. Serve with couscous and the sauce.
I hope you try this recipe. If you do, comment at the bottom of any post and let me know.