Friday, May 29, 2009
Today, for lunch, we had our first meal of artichokes from the plants in our garden. They were delicious little ones, parboiled, trimmed and halved, then sauted in olive oil with a little garlic. A real treat, served cold with a little vinagrette.
There are so many ways to serve an artichoke, yet to most Americans, it is something they have never tasted, except for the metallic, citric acid impregnated "hearts" in jars and cans. Most Americans have never seen an artichoke plant. Perhaps the choke puts people off and the canned metallic taste of commercial artichokes has nothing to do with the real thing. They contain iodine, so they provide a neccesary trace amount of this important element.
I realize that artichokes are considered a warm zone plant, but here, where I live in France, it gets pretty cold in the winter and I have never lost an artichoke plant due to cold. They die off in the winter, but come back stronger each year. You can divide the root when they get too big and multiply the plants. They like a rich soil, all I do is enrich the garden with rotted horse manure each fall and plow it in each spring before I plant. I would think that under normal conditions, you could grow them in most of the United States, in the Great Lakes region, the rootss might need to be covered with the old leaves in the winter for insulation.
I see garden variety artichokes used as a foliage plant in garden displays. The attractive, lush gray green foliage is like the alcanthus. The artichoke itself, is actually a flower and most people have never seen one actually bloom. Artichokes are members of the thistle family and an artichoke which has fully opened is quite like a giant thistle flower of the most unearthly ultra violet I have ever seen. Indeed, the color is so intense that it creates a n optical diffraction.
I have had the same plants for years and they are not the giant globe variety, but smaller Italian artichokes, which must be eaten before they get too big and hard.
I look forward to this time of spring when they appear. They begin to set buds and when they get to the right size and there are enough for a meal...
I eat them a few different ways. As I said above, trimmed... for the little ones; the hard points off of the petals and the tough outer leaves discarded. Then parboiled and split in half. They are then sauted in a little olive oil with garlic. An Italian friend taught us how to put a plate on top to weigh them down during the frying so they get a nice brown crust.
Big artichokes, trimmed, boiled with a little lemon juice or vinegar and then served with a vinagrette, or just olive oil.
I trim them and boil them with vinegar, then put them in a baking dish. I chop parsley with garlic and parmesan cheese and stuff it in the center and between the leaves of each artichoke. I put some of the boiling water in the pan and drizzle olive oil over the tops. Then bake in a 300 degree oven for a bout a half hour. These are best after they have cooled and are reheated with some of the liquid the next day.
Then again, if you don't like artichokes, they always look great in the garden.
Bon apetit, bien sur!