How to prepare and enjoy te aristocratic artichoke

If you have never bought fresh artichokes, to cook whole and eat cold with a sauce, to stuff and bake, or to use the hearts in a main dish or salad, it may be bewildering to know just how to prepare and eat this prickly vegetable. It does require a bit more time and bother than other spring vegetables, but if you like its nutty flavor and versatility, the technique is worth mastering.

Artichokes have basically three parts: stiff, scalelike leaves or bracts that are edible at the base; a mass of fuzzy fibers called the choke; and the tender, cup-shaped bottom of the vegetable, called the heart.

Most of the artichokes in our markets are grown in California, particularly in Castroville, a town south of San Francisco and just north of Monterey. Artichokes are at their peak in April and May, but their season extends from September to June. Although there are 250 known varieties, the most popular is the Globe artichoke, which grows particularly well in this region of California, frequently shrouded in fog.

Arthichokes vary from small to large, and markets in various areas of the United States demand different sizes.People of Italian and French origin tend to prefer small ones. Whatever the size, look for bright green artichokes with tightly packed leaves. In the winter months, the leaves may have a bronze tinge to them, as a result of frost, but they have not been damaged.

It is best to store unwashed artichokes in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator, where they will keep up to one week.

There are three precautions to remember when preparing artichokes:

1. Don't use carbon steel knives to cut them, because these will discolor the vegetables; use stainless steel knives and scissors instead.

2. As they are trimmed, either rub the surface you have just cut with lemon, or drop them in 1 quart of water to which you have added 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. This also prevents discoloration.

3. Cook artichokes in acidulated water in an enamel, stainless steel, or tin-lined copper pot, since aluminum or cast-iron pots will give them a grayish color.

To prepare artichokes for cooking, rinse with cold water. Cut off the stem at the base so the vegetable will stand upright. Snap off any small or discolored leaves at the base. Place the artichoke on its side on a cutting board and trim off about 1 inch of the top. Rub the cut edges with lemon. With kichen scissors, cut 1/2 inch off the tip of each leaf. Rub with lemon.

Depending on their size, artichokes will take from 25 to 35 minutes to cook. They should be boiled in a large kettle so that they have plenty of room. They are done when the leaves pull out easily and the bottoms are tender then pierced with a fork. Immediately remove tem from the kettle with a spoon and drain upside down in a colander.

To remove the choke before serving, gently spread the leaves apart enough so you can reach the inside. Pull out the center core of tiny undeveloped leaves in one piece. At the point where you removed these leaves is the choke, which covers the top of the heart. Scrape out the fuzzy choke with a spoon and sprinkle the heart with lemon juices.

If you have never eaten an artichoke before, here is how to go about it. Using your fingers, pull off the leaves one at a time. Dip the base of the leaf in melted lemon butter or a sauce of your choice. Then scrape off the tender part between your teeth.

If the choke has already been removed, you have only cut the heart into bite-size pieces with your knofe and fork and dip each one in butter or sauce before eating.

Whole boiled artichokes are good hot or cold, especially with some type of sauce. For warm artichokes, it may be as simple as melted butter with lemon juice, or a hollandaise with a little tarragon or parsley added. A mayonnaise or vinaigrette is particularly good with cold artichokes. Here are some reipes to help you enjoy this remarkable vegetable. Lemon Butter Sauce for Hot Boiled Artichokes 1/1 cup lemon juice 1/8 teaspoon salt Pinch of white pepper 8 tablespoon butter, chilled 2 to 3 tablespoon water from boiling artichokes

In an enameled saucepan, boil down lemon juice, and pepper until reduced to 1 tablespoon.

Remove from heat and immediately beat in 2 tablespoons chilled butter. Set over low heat and whisk in remaining butter, bit by bit, to make thick, creamy sauce. Remove from heat.

Just before serving, slowly beat in hot vegetable stock to warm sauce. Season to taste and serve with boiled artichokes.Makes about 1/2 cup. Sauce Alsacienne for Cold Boiled Artichokes 2 eggs 1 tablespoon imported mustard 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 cup olive oil 1/4 cup whipping cream 1 1/2 tablespoon shallots or scallions, minced 3 to 4 tablespoons parsley, tarragon, basil or herbs of your choice

This sauce is easiest to make when all ingredients are at room temperature. Boil eggs for 3 minutes. Place yolks in mixing bowl, and put aside whites, which should be just set.

Using wire whisk, beat yolks for a minute or two, until thick and sticky. Beat in mustard, salt, and lemon juice and beat for 30 seconds.

Begin beating in oil, drop by drop at first. Do not stop beating until sauce has thickened. Stop pouring and continue beating every 10 seconds or so. After 1/3 to 1/2 cup of oil has been incorporated, the sauce will thicken into a very heavy cream. You can relax now. Then beat in remaining oil, blending throughly after each addition.

Gradually beat in cream. Add shallots and herbs, then chopped egg whites. Season to taste. Makes about 2 cups. Stuffed Artichokes 6 medium artichokes 1/4 cup butter 1/2 cup water 2 cups herb-seasoned stuffing 1 tablespoon onion, minced 1/4 cup parsley, minced 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese 1 clove garlic, minced 1 tablespoon pine nuts 1/2 teaspoon oregano

Trim and prepare artichokes according to above directions. Boil in acidulated water 25 to 35 minutes. Remove center leaves and choke. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare stuffing by heating butter and water in saucepan until butter melts. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spoon stuffng into artichokes. Place close together in baking dish. Add 1/2 inch boiling water and bake for 20 minutes. Serve with melted butter, if desired. Serves 6 as an appetizer.

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