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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

globe artichoke hearts

The wonderful thing about artichoke hearts is they are available all summer and just one large heart per head makes a substantial starter. I like to cook them from a cold-water start on a gentle simmer for 45 minutes, give them at least an hour to drain and cool down then get rid of all those tiresome leaves, clean up the choke and serve them whole in all their glory. I cannot see the benefit of going through the slow process of peeling off each bract (leaf), dipping it in melted butter or vinaigrette with the net result of a tiny nibble of each and a huge mess. I just do not have the patience.

It is interesting to know that when the artichoke flower is still a bud the whole head can be consumed but once the flower forms and the bracts become tough then their bases only become edible along with the all important heart. Artichokes are a member of the thistle family and their flowers alone are things of great beauty.

Artichoke hearts can be a daunting thought unless you know how to prepare them properly but once this is established they are one of the best and most versatile vegetables available.

Artichokes should feel heavy for their size with closed bracts. Select fresh deep green or purple artichokes.

Cut off the stem as close as possible to the base of each artichoke then snap off any really tough outer bracts – by doing so you will fit more artichokes in one large saucepan. Slice off the tops too thus getting rid of any spiky ones (see photo) and place all the artichokes in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water and add the juice of one lemon. Place a bowl over the top to keep them submerged during the cooking process. Bring the pot to the boil, turn down heat to low and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain well, upside down, for at least one hour or  when cool enough to handle.

Now you have two choices depending of your preference.

One is to remove all the leaves and the choke, keeping only the hearts and serve them with melted herb butter as in the photograph.

Alternatively, cut into the centre of each artichoke, remove the choke but keep a lot of outer leaves intact. Pour melted herb butter into the cavity and serve. This gives the choice of a nibble of the bracts ending with the prized heart.

Whole artichokes hearts are lovely stuffed to accompany any meat dish but eating them on their own is truly a wonderful way to experience their special taste and flavour. Robust food, I think!

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