cucina bene; mangia bene (the season of the edible flower)
Things are getting busy for us; we’ve been cooking for large parties, performing personal chef services, teaching private classes at the Culinary Center in Lincoln City, booking several small weddings this summer, helping out a local restaurant with monthly wine dinners and wine tastings, and we just released a couple of new ads on the radio at BOSS 100.7 and KCUP 1230. I committed to posting once a week on this blog when I started it and now find myself 2 weeks behind……my apologies.
This week we are going to talk about my favorite flower which is now in season: the artichoke. Did you know that the artichoke is a flower? A flower from a type of thistle plant which is a perennial herb and not a vegetable? You’ve all seen thistles: the weeds that grow in your yard or on the side of the road that have thorns and kinda pretty purple flowers. Well, if you had an artichoke plant and it grew an artichoke and you let it flower, it would look pretty similar to a thistle flower.
Here in the USA, there aren’t very many types that we can buy at the grocery store (which is pretty much the same story for any fruit or vegetable I am sad to say). We see the globe artichoke which is the most common, or the purple artichoke, or small star shaped artichokes:
- Green Globe – the most common variety with a green globular choke
- Purple of Romagna – a large-headed purple choke thought to be more tender than Green Globe
- Imperial Star – the first artichoke which will produce fruit in one 90-120 day season
Nearly all artichokes grown in the USA are from Castroville, California the artichoke capital, but they originated in the Mediterranean and there, you can find dozens of different kinds of artichokes both domestic and wild. When I was in Italy last year, I had the opportunity to enjoy many different types of artichokes. My favorite was one from Liguria that was deadly to look at and handle. I can remember walking home from the grocery store in Colorno with my bag of artichokes slicing through the plastic like a machete; it was always a race to get home before they all fell out of the bag.
When I did safely arrive home with my artichokes, I would simply remove the outer leaves, trim the stem, cut it in quarters, remove the choke, and roast it in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper……..it was the best artichoke I’ve ever tasted. I lived on them for weeks: I put them in pasta, risotto, ate them cold in salads, ate them wrapped in prosciutto, with bufula mozzarella, with scrambled eggs, etc.
Artichokes are very versatile and very healthy for you. They contain lots of antioxidants that do many great things for your body, and they are easy to prepare. You can steam them whole and dip the leaves in your favorite sauce or dip. You can puree the hearts and make soup, or you can roast them in the oven (like I described above). One thing you must remember is to always keep the artichokes in acidulated (lemon juice) water when you are preparing them or they will turn black. Once the artichoke is cut, it oxidizes immediately. it’s also important to cool them in stainless steel and not cast iron or aluminum for the same reasons. Here’s a great recipe for stuffed artichokes my mom used to make for us when I was growing up. Buon Appetitio e a presto!
Stuffed Artichokes (serves 4):
4 large globe artichokes, cleaned, trimmed, choke and tough leaves removed
4 cups stale bread, cubed
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 lemons, (2 sliced and 2 zested and juiced)
4 tbs. chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
In an large pot or Dutch oven, fill with enough water to measure 2 inches from bottom of pot. Add lemon slices and bring to simmer on stovetop. Mix bread cubes with garlic, lemon zest, juice, parsley, salt, pepper, and enough olive oil to moisten the bread. Spread the leaves out as far as you can without pulling them off the artichoke and spoon a little of the bread mixture into some (not all of the leaves). Spoon some bread into the center, add the artichokes (standing upright) into the simmering pot of water and drizzle more olive oil over the tops. Cover and poach for approximately 30-45 minutes or until the leaves are tender and pull easily from the artichoke. Drizzle with more olive oil and lemon juice if desired and serve as an appetizer or side dish…….enjoy!