April has been designated ``Artichoke Month'' by the California Artichoke Board, although March and May are also peak months for this edible thistle, prized for its heart and leaves - and even the stem, which cooks once discarded. In choosing artichokes, look for bright green color and tightly packed leaves. Don't wash them when you get home. Just drizzle with a few of drops of water, seal in an airtight plastic bag, and refrigerate. They will keep up to two weeks.
To prepare, rinse the globes and cut off the stem at the bottom end so that when cooked it will sit upright for serving. Remove and discard the lower outside leaves, and trim off the sharp points of the petals.
Although this vegetable can be cooked in boiling water, steaming is better because there's no need to drain the water from the leaves. Use a steamer, a colander, or a sieve placed over boiling water. Large artichokes take about 45 minutes. When leaves pull off easily and the heart does not resist when pricked with a knife, the artichoke is done. Do not use aluminum, iron, or carbon steel cooking utensils for cooking or handling artichokes as they cause artichokes to blacken and get a metallic taste.
The artichoke is delicious either hot or cold. It can be boiled, steamed, baked, fried, saut'eed, braised, marinated, or pickled. Stuff hot artichokes with meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetable stuffings. Serve plain artichokes with lemon butter, mayonnaise, French dressing, mustard sauce, and B'earnaise, Proven,cale, or Mornay sauces. The stem can even be pur'eed for soup. The following is a sampler of artichoke recipes. Stuffed Artichoke Bottoms Bordelaise 4 cooked artichoke bottoms 1/4 pound fresh mushrooms 2 tablespoons butter Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 2 tablespoons chopped shallots 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Drain and hollow out cooked artichoke bottoms. Place hollowed-out side down, on flat surface. Cut in half, holding knife at a slight diagonal. Cut each half into thirds, with knife at a slight diagonal. Set aside.
Slice mushrooms in same way and set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in skillet and add mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Toss and stir until browned. Add artichokes, remaining tablespoon butter, shallots, and parsley. Cook, stirring and tossing ingredients, until piping hot. Serve as a vegetable course. Serves 4 to 6. Artichokes with Curdle-Proof Hollandaise 2 medium artichokes 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon salad oil 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 garlic clove, crushed Mock Hollandaise Sauce 1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened 2 egg yolks 1 tablespoon lemon juice 3 tablespoons half-and-half 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
To cook artichokes: Slice stem from bottom of artichokes. Snip off tips of leaves about 1/2-inch from top. In saucepan combine 4 inches of water with lemon juice, salad oil, salt, and garlic. Heat to boiling. Add artichokes. Cover and cook 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. To test, insert fork into base of artichoke.
Invert artichokes to drain. Let stand until cool. Remove hairy choke from each. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours.
For sauce: In top of double boiler blend cream cheese and egg yolks. Place over simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients. (Can be prepared in advance and kept warm in double boiler up to 1 hour before serving.) Makes 2/3 cup Hollandaise Sauce.
To serve, fill center of each artichoke with sauce. Serves 2. Artichokes Stuffed with Salmon 4 artichokes, cooked 4 tablespoons butter or margarine 1 clove garlic, chopped 4 large mushrooms chopped 1/2 cup cooked or canned salmon, flaked 3/4 cup coarse dry bread crumbs 1/4 teaspoon salt Dash cayenne pepper 1/4 cup chopped parsley 4 tablespoons mayonnaise 1 cup chicken broth
Cook artichokes. Melt butter in skillet. Add garlic and mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are almost tender. Add salmon, bread crumbs, salt if desired, cayenne, and parsley. Stir to combine. Remove mixture from heat. Drain artichokes. Spread leaves apart at center and remove undeveloped leaves.
With spoon, scoop out the hairy choke, leaving heart intact. Add 2 tablespoons mayonnaise to stuffing mixture. Fill hollow in artichokes with stuffing and push a little between outer leaves. Spread 1/2 tablespoon mayonnaise over stuffing in each artichoke. Press the leaves back in shape. Stand artichokes upright in a deep casserole. Add broth. Bake at 375 degres F. for about 20 minutes, basting occasionally with broth. Serves 4. Lemon-Butter Sauce for Cooked Artichokes 1 cup melted butter 1/4 cup lemon juice 1/4 cup chopped parsley Salt (optional) 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Combine all ingredients and simmer 5 minutes. Serve warm as dipping sauce with hot artichokes.