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Artichokes 101

Get to the heart of the art of cooking and eating these odd vegetables.

One of the best parts of moving back home to Naples, Florida, is having some more sophisticated food choices at my fingertips. I have already publicly confessed my love of chicken wings two weeks ago in The Dish, but I am really excited to have access to restaurants that serve something other than college town pub food or discount sushi (something that really shouldn’t exist). Now all I need is a spare moment away from work, cooking, and blogging to grab a friend and chow down!

Bricktop’s, a favorite lunch spot of mine here in town, happens to serve grilled artichokes with aioli dipping sauce as an appetizer. Even after ordering this dish countless times, I still can’t believe how something so simple can be so delicious. Frozen artichoke hearts are a staple in my kitchen, but I had never actually prepared fresh, whole artichokes before. So, this week I decided to try something new! (Also, truth be told, my bank account took a bit of a hit after last week’s decadent osso buco post, so I was looking for something a little easier on my wallet and my waistline.)

Sadly, as a young adult still stuck in the apartment stage of life, I’m not currently able to own a grill. In lieu of grilled ‘chokes, I decided to try both steaming and roasting them. After a bit of research, it was very clear to me that most people are seriously intimidated by these prehistoric-looking flower buds. The truth of the matter is that they couldn’t be easier to prepare.

IMG_4394Here’s a bit of background info on artichokes:

Although they are available pretty much year-round, the peak season for artichokes is spring. Nevertheless, I’m afraid I may have bought the very last of this season’s crop at Whole Foods earlier this week. All of the photos accompanying artichoke recipes online show crisp, vibrant green buds, but the ones I brought home—the only four left in the entire store—had very little in common with their more glamorous counterparts. They were still very tasty, regardless! A friend of mine opted to be my guinea pig this week, and I think we both decided that the steamed version was our favorite.

As I mentioned, artichokes are actually immature flowers of a species of thistle plant. The rigid ‘petals’ surrounding the artichoke are actually called bracts, and they help protect the flower inside from harsh weather and pests (like hungry, aioli-wielding humans).1 At the base of each bract is a bit of edible flesh, and deeper within the artichoke are the renowned heart and choke.

Be careful not to confuse the two! The heart is very tender and flavorful, while the choke is fibrous and will leave you feeling like you tried to swallow a handful of sawdust if you accidentally eat it. After peeling away (and savoring) all of the heartier bracts, you will be left with a stem and/or base with some softer, smaller petals. Upon removing these, you will see the fuzzy choke. Remove all of these fibers, and underneath you will find the prized heart!

Artichokes are suspected to have originated in the Mediterranean, although they quickly became popular and spread throughout the world over the centuries.2 Interestingly enough, nearly 100% of all commercially produced artichokes in the United States are grown in California.3 Scientists believe that the contemporary globe variety of artichoke actually descended from wild cardoons, which are also a part of the thistle family, but spikier and altogether more bizarre looking.2

However, the ancient Greek origin story surrounding the beloved artichoke is a bit more dramatic. It is said that the god Zeus fell madly in love with a mortal woman named Cynara, seduced her, made her a goddess, and brought her back to Mount Olympus to live with him. (Doesn’t sound too shabby, eh?) But poor Cynara became lonely and began secretly returning home to visit her family. Of course, the almighty Zeus eventually caught her sneaking around. This angered him so much that he banished her from Olympus and turned her into an artichoke.2 Leave it to the ancient Greeks to think up a scandalous and soap-opera-worthy origin story for an edible thistle bud…

:O artichoke style

:O artichoke style

Now that you’ve got a bit of background on this mysterious vegetable, here’s some practical information as well:

Basic Artichoke Prep

Before you start tackling any kind of recipe using whole artichokes, it’s important to know how to clean and prepare them. These tend to brown quickly once you start working with them, so try not to start your prep until you’re ready to pop them into the oven, onto the grill, etc. If you’re worried about your artichokes browning, or trying to get your prep done ahead of time, have half a lemon on hand to rub along the freshly trimmed areas in order to prevent oxidation. Here’s the skinny on ‘chokes:

  1. Like any kind of produce, rinse your artichokes well with cold water.
  2. Remove any small straggler leaves or unsightly dangly bits along the base of the bud and the stem.
  3. Cut about an inch off the top of the bulb.
  4. If you wish to keep the entire artichoke intact, trim a quarter inch off the stem and use a vegetable peeler to remove the fibrous outer layer. Otherwise, remove the entire stem.
  5. If your artichoke has small barbs at the end of each petal, use a pair of kitchen shears to snip off these sharp points.

Your are now ready to become an artichoke master!

Steamed Artichokes

(Adapted from ‘How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke’ by Elise Bauer on Simply Recipes)

  • 4 artichokes, washed and prepared as stated above
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 lemon, halved, plus juice
  • A few tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Black peppercorns (optional)
Artichokes near the end of the steaming process.

Artichokes near the end of the steaming process.

In a large pot, add a couple inches of water, the garlic, a few pinches of salt, the bay leaf, oil, and peppercorns, if using. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the pot, and add the juiced halves as well. Bring this mixture to a boil.

Once boiling, insert a steamer basket into the pot and place the artichokes on top. If you are not using a basket, simply place the artichokes stem end up in the pot. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer.

Allow the artichokes to steam for 25 to 45 minutes depending on their size. When done, the outer leaves at the base of the stem can be removed easily.

Simply Roasted Artichokes

(From Chef John on AllRecipes.com)

  • 4 artichokes, washed and prepared as stated above
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ good olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a bowl, gently spread the petals of each artichoke apart and drizzle the olive oil and lemon juice over the tops of the buds.

Insert a paring knife into the middle of each artichoke in order to create a small space. Insert a garlic clove into each cavity, and then season to taste with salt.

Roasted artichokes make me smile!

Roasted artichokes make me smile!

Wrap each artichoke tightly with a piece of parchment paper, and then again with a piece of foil (or two). Place the artichokes on a sheet pan and bake for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.

I recommend serving the cooked ‘chokes warm with aioli or your favorite dipping sauce. What is your favorite way to cook and eat artichokes?

Sources
  1. Harrison, M. (2011, March 9). Bracts: Leaves, Petals, or Something Else? Dave’s Garden. Retrieved from http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3156
  2. Rupp, R. (2014, November 12). The History of Artichokes. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2014/11/12/artichokes/
  3. California Artichoke Advisory Board. (2015). Retrieved from http://artichokes.org/

The Dish

So, my first week at the new job went very well! I think I earned some brownie points for bringing in clafoutis to share with my coworkers. Or maybe it’s clafoutis points? Regardless, I’m happy to have a new group of guinea pigs for my recipes and some input from someone other than my mother and our dogs!

However, since moving back home, I have been missing the chicken wings at my favorite college bar and grill. Needless to say, wings probably aren’t something that I should be eating all that frequently anyway, so I’m in no rush to try and find a new place to get my wing fix. Fortunately, I found this recipe on Pinterest a couple years ago, and it is a fabulous vegetarian substitute. It’s also a far less fattening option for when I’m craving greasy bar food. Trust me, this is definitely worth a try!

http://www.persnicketyplates.com/buffalo-cauliflower/

My mom's new Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer!

My mom’s new Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer!

In other news, my mom has been saving for a new Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer for some months now, and she finally made the purchase! Not only am I excited for her to have a beautiful new version of one of her favorite kitchen tools, but this means that I get her old one! I’ve been frequently sending my boyfriend baked goods in care packages, and I am so excited to not have to mix cookie dough by hand anymore! Here’s some pictures of my mom’s new equipment.

I tried out my new mixer this week with a new cookie recipe as well. My boyfriend is a fan of mint and chocolate sweets, so I thought I’d give a cookie version a try. Although it isn’t my favorite flavor combo, these cookies turned out pretty well. They were a big hit with my beau and his roommates too! The only thing I would alter is the amount of green food coloring, though. It’s definitely necessary in order to let people

My new/old mixer atop a kitchen island that my mom got me as a house warming gift.

My new/old mixer atop a kitchen island that my mom got me as a house warming gift.

know that these aren’t the plain old chocolate chip variety, but I don’t think that a brilliant green hue is very attractive unless you’re making them for Christmas or St. Patrick’s Day.

http://www.mccormick.com/Recipes/Dessert/Mint-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies

That’s all for The Dish this week! I hope you all have a fantastic holiday weekend. 🙂

Split Pea Soup

An easy soup recipe that is sure to ‘pease’. However, I don’t suggest aging it for nine days or serving it cold.

It has occurred to me recently that my predilection for soups and stews is a bit unorthodox. I’ve never thought twice about cooking up a hearty beef stew in the height of summer, and I am pretty much always down for a savory noodle soup regardless of the season, weather, and so on. Basically nothing can get between me and my love of food in steaming, semi-liquid form.

Not to mention soups and stews are perfect for feeding a crowd on a budget and for packing (or hiding—hey kids!) nutrient dense veggies into a balanced one-bowl meal. I am a vegetable freak and can never get enough of ‘em, but what I love most about soups is that I can whip up a big batch with little to no effort, have a number of meals already prepared for the week, and have enough leftover to pop a few extra servings in the freezer for later.

My go-to recipe happens to be split pea. As much as I love bacon and ham, I try not to keep such tempting porky goodness on hand all that often. These ingredients lend a great deal of flavor to a soup like split pea, but I’ve found that plenty of vegetables and a bit of spice can go a long way on their own. I’ve included this meatless adaptation below. And believe me, it is just as delicious without the ham!

But now, if you would be so kind as to disregard split pea soup’s traditionally autumnal connotations, here’s a bit of background on the infamous pea:

Although this dish is quite simple, peas have been a staple in the human diet for thousands of years. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of wild pea consumption by humans as far back as 9750 BCE. 1 Apicius de re Coquinaria, a 4th or 5th century collection of popular Roman recipes contains numerous listings simply for the preparation of these round little seeds. 2

As these green legumes spread throughout Europe, the dried versions became a stable and affordable source of food for peasants, while the French regarded fresh peas as a popular delicacy. 1 Once Europeans began exploring other corners of the globe, nonperishable foodstuffs such as dried peas were crucial to their survival and the success of their lengthy expeditions. The classic children’s nursery rhyme “Pease Pudding Hot” refers to a traditional British version of split pea soup that is usually much thicker and is still eaten today.

Split peas are actually pulses, or legumes (seeds) that are dried. Even aside from all the other vegetables in split pea soup, the main ingredient in this dish is high in dietary fiber and folate, low in fat and sodium, and a complete source of (meatless) protein. 3 This is good news for vegans, vegetarians, and individuals who are looking to reduce their meat consumption. Additionally, split peas are gluten-free, low-allergen, and low on the Glycemic Index (GI) meaning they help control appetite and prevent blood-sugar spikes.4

Scientifically, pea plants are also quite extraordinary. They were the stars in Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking genetics experiments in the mid-1800s that helped to shed light on dominant and recessive traits or genes.5 Today, laboratories are even working on using different forms of pea protein as an egg substitute.4

Peas really are quite fascinating, but let’s get down to the good stuff!

Split Pea Soup

  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 3 small red potatoes, unpeeled and chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed and minced
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 lb. split green peas, rinsed and picked over
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional)

Combine onion, carrots, celery, garlic, jalapeno, and butter in a large pot over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the chicken stock, parsley, bay leaf, potatoes, and peas. Bring to a simmer and cook until the peas are soft (about 45 minutes to an hour). Stir frequently to avoid burning and sticking at the bottom of the pot. Depending on your consistency preference, more stock or water can be added if the soup becomes too thick. If you prefer a creamier texture, carefully process soup in batches in a blender or using an immersion blender. Serve hot with a piece of good, crusty bread.

Sources:
  1. A brief history of peas. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.bestcookingpulses.com/history.php
  2. Apicius. (2009). Cookery and dining in imperial rome [Apicius de re Coquinaria] (J. D. Vehling Trans.). Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29728/29728-h/29728-h.htm
  3. Peas, green, split, mature seeds, raw. (2014). (No. 16085). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Retrieved from http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/4798?manu=&fgcd=
  4. Pulses: The heart of healthy food [Brochure] (2010). USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council.
  5. Mendel, G., & Bateson, W. (1925). Experiments in plant-hybridisation. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5962/bhl.title.4532
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