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Comments by YACCS
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It makes everything taste better

Baby artichokes and parmesan

Beneath a Prickly Exterior, a Welcome Taste of Spring

Published: April 19, 2006

AMONG the items that at some point in history were deemed edible by our ancestors, artichokes have a great deal in common with lobsters: it's hard to imagine how anyone saw their potential. And yet to me, there are few vegetables as appealing as these prickly thistles. I still get a bit of a thrill when I see nice-looking artichokes in the market.

When I was young, we always ate artichokes the same way: boiled, with salt. I'm nearly ashamed to admit it, but we just scraped the leaves with our teeth and never ate the heart. No one told us!

They were my favorite vegetable, and remain pretty much so, whether cooked the old way or stuffed, both of which are almost no work at all. They're also great raw or sautéed with other foods, as in the silky, absolutely delicious Ligurian combination of artichokes, potatoes and shrimp presented here.

It's not a small point that artichokes make everything else taste better, too. This is not just a myth: Artichokes contain a compound called cynarin, which stimulates taste bud receptors and makes even mediocre food delicious. I can't understand why restaurants don't serve them gratis.

Years ago, artichokes were a springtime treat. Even though they're now available year-round, their odd growing requirements still mean they're best in spring. They like a long, cool season of a kind found only in places with mild but moist winters, which means the Mediterranean, California or the like. In northern Italy and southern France, the kinds of artichokes grown vary by region, and different colors, sizes and shapes are available.

Here we usually just have a choice of the large bulbous globe type or small ones. Large artichokes are best for eating straight, in the style of my childhood, or stuffed. Buy ones with tight leaves — they spread as they age — and with no brown spots or signs of abuse. I like to cut off the tip of the stem and trim its sides with a paring knife, but preserve as much of the rest as I can. If you are stuffing the artichoke, it must have a flat bottom, so you need to cut the stem off. I also like to cut the pointed tips off, but that isn't necessary.

You can remove the hardest outer leaves as you like. Before cooking you can remove the choke — the hairy tuft in the center, right above the heart, which will stick rather unpleasantly in your throat — or you can remove it at the table.

Steaming whole artichokes is better than boiling because they don't become as waterlogged. Just make sure not to let the pot boil dry during the long cooking time, usually 30 to 45 minutes.

I love artichokes. The tiny ones are a pain in the ass to clean, but they are phenomenal. In medieval times, they were lightly fried with an eggy coating and eaten with red wine--compounds in the artichokes makes red wine taste unusually sweet and mellow.

I can't say, I've never had them

posted by Steve @ 3:41:00 PM

3:41:00 PM

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