Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Artichokes: the Edible Thistle
The first person to eat an artichoke probably deserves some sort of award, because the part that we eat is really the edible bud of a huge thistle plant. If left on the plant, the bud produces a large purple flower. In this country, commercial artichokes are all grown in California. I know this because I once drove through Castroville, California, which calls itself the artichoke capital of the world. (In 1948, Marilyn Monroe was crowned as the artichoke queen.)
Artichokes are one of those perfect summer foods, because they are good whether hot or cold. I often buy several them on sale and cook them all at one time. I eat a hot one right away and save the others to eat cold. To select a good artichoke, pick it up. It should feel heavy and the leaves should squeak a little when the globe is squeezed. If the tips of the leaves are brown, it could be old and a bit tough.
Despite their armored exteriors, people have been eating artichokes for centuries. The taste is both distinctive and appealing. Many diners are introduced to this vegetable through a spinach-artichoke dip served by some restaurants, while other folks make their own dip. One of the simplest is just to combine equal parts of chopped artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese, and mayonnaise. Place in a buttered casserole and bake at 425 degrees for 20–25 minutes.
Cooking and eating artichokes is simple. Personally, I don't use a pressure cooker any more. Although it does save time, more often it overcooks the food. Instead, I just steam them on top of the stove after adding some lemon and garlic to the water. Hot or cold, I eat them with mayonnaise, but many other people enjoy lemon butter instead.