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Ok, connect these dots. What do artichokes and sexism have in common? Well, many foods in medieval and ancient history were falsely ascribed with positive or negative attributes. Tomatoes and potatoes for example, brought from the new world by the early European explorers, were thought to be poisonous. Can you imagine Italians believing tomatoes were poisonous? Artichokes, which originated in Sicily, were not only thought to be medicinal, but an aphrodisiac as well. Women were subsequently forbidden to consume them, an edict which undoubtedly arose from men’s attempt to control possible infidelity. It’s hard to tell which is worse, the lack of intelligence or the lack of social justice. In any event, along came Catherine De Medicis, the Florentine princess who married King Henry II of France and influenced the shape of French cuisine for all eternity. She liked artichokes and since she was the queen, she had the authority to propagate their cultivation and consumption. You go girl!
Artichokes are neither medicinal or an aphrodisiac but they are delicious and versatile. Choose artichokes with tight, compact leaves, (which squeak when you squeeze them), which are heavy for their size, and with minimal brown spots. Artichokes are a flower bud from the thistle family. With mature artichokes you must remove the inedible choke, the mass of fibers located just above the prized heart which would eventually form the flower. This is not an issue with baby, (immature) artichokes since the choke has not formed yet. How to prepare artichokes is determined by how you wish to cook them.
The simplest way to eat an artichoke is to cut off the stem and boil them for 15 minutes or until a knife inserted in the base easily penetrates. You may need to place something on top of them in the pot to keep them fully submerged, such as a steamer insert or a small upside down colander with a weight on it. When they are done, pull off the leaves one by one, dip them in melted butter, and scrape the fleshy base of the leaf off with your teeth. As you get closer to the center the leaves become tender and you can eat them whole. When you reach the heart you will need to scrape or cut out the choke. Then dip the yummy heart in your butter and enjoy.
You can also broil or braise them. For either method, cut the top quarter of the artichoke off. Cut off the tip of the stem and peel it up to and including the base. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. In the center, just above the heart you will see the nasty, hairy choke. Scrape that sucker out. I find a grapefruit spoon, with its curved array of teeth works best. Immediately place the artichoke in water with lemon juice. Artichoke interiors will turn brown when exposed to the air, (thanks to the process of oxidation). Acids will counteract this reaction.
To broil them, remove them from the water, pat them dry and immediately toss them in a bowl with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place them on a sheet tray and broil them for 5-7 minutes, (depending on their size), then flip them and broil for a couple more minutes. Do not place them too close to the broiler or they will burn. Eat them as is, or add fresh olive oil, butter, or herbs. Or chop them and add them to your pasta primavera.
To braise them, take a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, chicken or vegetable stock, chopped garlic, (optional), the herbs of your choice, and salt and pepper. How much of the mixture will depend on how many artichokes and their size. Figure on a cup of stock and a half cup each of oil and juice for 7-9 artichokes and then work from there. Bring all of the ingredients except the artichokes to a boil, pour it over the artichokes in a baking dish, cover, and place in a 350 degree preheated oven for 30 – 45 minutes.
Or you can make marinated artichoke hearts. Yes I’m aware you can buy them jarred but if you’re a jar or can person I’m assuming you wouldn’t be reading a cooking column. Prepare and boil the artichokes as in the above boiled recipe. Shock them in ice water to cool them quickly so you can work with them. Remove all the leaves, (save them for snacking), and the choke, until you are left with just the hearts. Quarter them and toss them in vinaigrette. A basic vinaigrette is a three to one ratio of oil to acid. Use extra virgin olive oil and either lemon juice or vinegar. I like red wine or champagne vinegar. Slowly drizzle the oil into the acid whisking constantly. Then add chopped herbs, a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper. You can also add a little Dijon mustard if you like.
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