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Artichokes: Peeling away the layers

Peel away the layers to reveal the heart
Peel away the layers to reveal the heart
Missy A Kitchell

Don’t let its prickly appearance intimidate you; artichokes aren’t your average spiked bramble growing in a field. Under that bristly exterior lays a velvety, smooth interior just waiting to be scraped into your mouth.

Artichokes are a thistle-like plant in the sunflower family. The edible bit is the flower bud. These thorny blossoms are thought to have originated in Italy. The fall of Rome saw their demise, but Catherine de Medici was said to have taken them to France when she married at a ripe old age of 14. Well received, artichokes were quite a culinary triumph in her new place of residence.

California cultivates most of the commercial crop, but a single plant in your garden plot will produce up to 20 chokes a year. Best grown from a start or dormant root stock, artichokes are hungry; plant in well composted soil with the addition of aged manure or bone meal. Place the plants in full sun and water deeply for tender buds and strong plants.

Whether at the market or in the garden, look for chokes that are heavy for their size with tightly closed leaves. When you press two leaves back and forth a fresh artichoke should make a squeaky sound. Now for the best part: devouring the thistly goodness.

To prepare artichokes, wash well, trim the stem flush with the bottom of the flower bud and cut the pointed tips from the top, approximately one-half inch. Place the artichokes in a pot of salted and seasoned water; bring to a boil. The seasoning can be a mix of herbs, a splash of lemon or a touch of white wine. Simmer the artichokes for 25 to 40 minutes depending on the size. Test their doneness by removing a leaf. If it freely gives way, there are ready. Serve with decadent dipping pottages like garlic-butter or mustard aioli.

Baby artichokes, harvested from the under layers of the plant are incredibly tender and do well with a stint in a frying pan of warmed olive oil. Add the crisp morsels to an antipasti plate or fresh pasta with shaved parmesan cheese.

Try stuffed artichokes: Take prepped veggie, separate the leaves and stuff with a mixture of fresh bread crumbs, pecorino cheese, minced garlic and parsley. Place the artichokes in a baking dish, pour boiling water up about an inch, cover with tin foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from oven, cool slightly and enjoy.