An appealing introduction to the family of artichokes

Have you ever lingered at the produce counter at the height of the artichoke season and wished you were more knowledgeable about the preparation of this prickly vegetable, a member of the thistle family? The fact that there are so many ways to prepare them is proof of their increasing popularity and should give the uninitiated courage to embark on a process less complicated than it appears.

One of the oldest foods known to man, virtually all the artichokes in the US come from the fields near Monterey, Calif. Heaviest supplies reach the market in April and May.

Prized for its heart, bottom, and leaves, thrifty cooks are now utilizing the artichoke's fat stem, which was formerly chopped off and discarded. Steamed or boiled, then pared, it will then be as tender as the bottom and when pureed, provides a delicious soup essence. The stem is also a barometer of cooking time , for when it is fork tender, the heart and bottom of the inner artichoke will be ready as well.

If you have to keep artichokes for a day or two before cooking, store them in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator where the humidity will slow wilting. Of course, cooked artichokes can be refrigerated for several days in a covered container.

Large artichokes are best for stuffing. Medium are fine for salads, and the smaller ones are suitable for pickling or frying.

Here is the technique for cooking and eating a fresh artichoke, the most delicious of finger foods. Cooked Artichokes 6 to 8 artichokes Boiling water to cover Salt

Wash artichokes in salted water and drain, bottoms up. Remove the thick loose leaves around the based and clip off tip of each leaf if sharp. Place artichokes in saucepan. Add water and salt and cook 25 to 35 minutes. Drain with bottoms up. Serves 6 to 8.

To eat, pull off a leaf, hold by the tip and dip into the sauce of your choice. Scrape the fleshy part of the base of the leaf between your teeth and discard the remainder of the leaf. Remove the center cone of leaves, and then use a spoon to scrape off the fuzzy choke above the heart. Cut the heart into bite-sized pieces with a fork and dip each piece into melted butter or a sauce. Hot Lemon Butter for Artichokes 1/4 pound butter Juice and grated outer rind of 1 lemon

Heat butter and let it stand until white foam subsides. Pour the clear fat into a heated gravy boat. Discard foam and solids. To the clarified butter add juice and rind.

Artichokes cooked in the same manner may be refrigerated and served with a cold dressing, as follows: Mayonnaise Dressing for Artichokes 1/3 cup mayonnaise Juice of 1/2 lemon Dash of dry mustard

Mix all ingredients well and serve in a bowl. Artichokes should be served cold in an upright position and eaten as previously described. Artichoke-Drumsticks 8 small to medium California artichokes Cold water Lemon juice Salt 8 broiler-fryer drumsticks, skinned and boned 1/2 teaspoon (about) lemon pepper dry marinade 8 slender sticks cooked ham, about 1/4 by 1/4 by 2 inches 1/2 cup chopped parsley, lightly packed i tablespoons olive or cooking oil 1/2 cup chicken broth 1 small onion, sliced, rings separated 1/2 canned pimiento or Spanish pepper, cut in strips

Wash artichokes and drain upside down. Snip off all outer leaves down to the tender pale green leaves. Trim stem, tips of leaves, and cut off about 1/2 inch of the top. Slice artichoke in half lengthwise and divide into quarters, if larger. Remove choke, if any. Place enough water to cover artichokes in bowl with 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon salt, if desired. Drop articholes, as prepared, into bowl. Let stand until ready to cook; drain well.

Open out drumsticks on board. Sprinkle with lemon pepper marinade. Place stick of ham on each drumstick and divide parsley among them. Roll and fasten with small wooden skewers or tie with string. In a large skillet heat oil over moderate heat. Add stuffed drumsticks and turn to brown all sides. Add onion; place artichokes in pan cut side down. Pour in chicken broth. Cover and cook gently until chicken and artichokes are almost tender, about 25 minutes.

Add pimiento and continue cooking, uncovered, until liquid is reduced to make a light pan sauce and chicken and artichokes are tender. Remove skewers or string. Serve hot. Makes 4 generous servings, or 8 luncheon servings. Stuff Baked Artichokes 4 large or 6 medium California artichokes Cold water Salt Lemon juice 2 tablespoons olive or cooking oil, divided 1 small clove garlic, minced 1 small onion, minced, about 1/4 cup 1/2 cup chopped parsley 2 cups soft white bread crumbs, from 6 slices firm bread 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper Extra olive oil or cooking oil

Wash artichokes; drain upside down.Cut off stems at base and remove bottom leaves. Trim tips of leaves and cut about 1 inch from top of artichoke. Stand artichokes upright in saucepan large enough to accommodate. Add water to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt for each artichoke and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. A small amount of oil may be added to make leaves glisten. Place over moderate heat and bright to boil; adjust heat and boil gently about 35 minutes or until bottom is tender and can be pierced easily with a fork. Remove and drain, upside down.

In a skillet over low heat cook garlic and onion in olive oil until tender but not brown. Remove from heat; add parsley, bread crumbs, cheese, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Gently spread leaves of artichoke apart and remove choke from center. A small metal spoon will help pull out the thistle portion.

Fill leaf cavities with a small amount of stuffing, dividing the stuffing evenly among the artichokes. Stand prepared artichokes in baking dish; drizzle with about 1 teaspoon olive oil for each artichoke. Pour boiling water around the artichokes to cover bottom of dish. Cover with foil and bake about 30 minutes in a 350 degrees F. oven. Makes 4 or 5 servings. Marinated Artichokes 1 teaspoon salt Dash cayenne pepper 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 1 teaspoon Worcestershire 1 tablespoon finely minced onion 1 clove garlic, crushed 2 tablespoons vinegar 1/3 cup salad oil 6 medium to large artichokes, or 12 to 16 small artichokes, cooked

Combine salt, peppers, Worcestershire, onion, garlic, vinegar, and salad oil. Beat well and spoon over artichokes. Chill several hours or overnight and serve. Makes 6 servings.

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