Artichoke and Planning for Ortigia

February 23rd, 2011 / Comments 0

This time next week, we will be in Sicily and it’s difficult to think about anything else. The thorny, green artichokes I saw at the grocery store here last Monday reminded me of the market stalls piled high with artichokes in Ortigia. That evening, Charles and I sat by the fire and made lists and plans for our trip. We remembered the men fishing for octopus on moonlit nights, the calls of the vendors in the open air market, and the fields of artichokes growing near groves of lemon and orange trees, and we looked out at the frozen pond while we had dinner that began with California grown artichokes.

Artichoke ce egbert Artichoke and Planning for OrtigiaI was twelve when I bought my first artichoke. My mother worked in a large grocery store that had a much more exotic range of foods than the market we usually shopped in. I loved to wander the aisles in search of mystery foods. I discovered lobsters and artichokes at the same time. Two foods that left piles of debris on my plate that were larger than the initial servings. My mother was always willing to indulge my curiosity as long as I promised to eat, or at least taste, what I brought home. Armed with a huge cookbook, actually a binder filled with fifteen small booklets that I had purchased one at a time, I was always able to find appropriate recipes to use in my culinary explorations even before the existence of the Internet.

The name artichoke comes from the Arabic term Ardi-Shoki that means ground thorn. Globe artichokes are harvested as unopened flower buds and, other than the name, have nothing in common with Jerusalem artichokes, which are lumpy roots of some varieties of sunflowers. If allowed to flower, the violet-blue blossom, similar to a thistle, can measures up to seven inches in diameter.

I chose two of the greenest and heaviest artichokes with sharp thorns on the tips of tightly closed petals. Although there are varieties without thorns, I prefer the flavor and texture of the thorny ones. I trimmed the petal tips and stems before cooking. Here’s how I did it:

Artichokes

I pulled off and discarded the small outer petals at the base, used a serrated knife to cut off the top inch and a half, trimmed the thorny tip from each petal with kitchen scissors and finished by using a paring knife to cut off the bottom of the stem and remove its fibrous outer layer. I put the artichokes into a large pot, filled the pot with cold water, and added two whole unpeeled garlic cloves, two tablespoons of olive oil, and the juice from half a lemon. I covered the pot, brought the water to a boil, reduced the heat to medium and cooked the artichokes until the base and stem were tender when pierced with a knife. Cooking time varies. These were cooked in twenty-five minutes but depending on size, age and freshness, it may take as long as forty-five minutes. I used tongs to remove the artichokes from the pot and set them upside down on a platter to drain while I mixed up garlic flavored mayo to serve with them.

Garlic Mayo

I combined three tablespoons of mayonnaise, one tiny clove of garlic, finely minced, a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, and a wee pinch of cayenne pepper. I used kitchen tongs to gently squeeze the excess water from the artichokes, put each one on a large dinner plate with half of the garlic mayo and sat down with Charles to look at the map of Sicily.

There are more ways to deconstruct and eat an artichoke than there are ways to eat an Oreo. I pull off one petal at a time, dip the bottom of it into mayo, put it in my mouth, dipped side down, and pull it through my teeth to remove the soft, delicious bit at the base of the petal, I put the ‘empty petal’ on my plate and continue on until I have reached the flat inner petals that cover the fuzzy heart or choke. I use a teaspoon to remove the inedible center and then cut the bottom and stem into pieces and dip them into the mayo, trying to finish the last of the mayo with the final bite of artichoke. On the other hand, my friend Andy completely disassembles an artichoke before dipping each leaf and then the base into garlic butter, and Jean doesn’t bother with the leaves at all, she pours salad dressing onto the base and eats it with a knife and fork.

Artichokes are fun to eat no matter how you do it, they are good for you and with only twenty-five calories they are a dieter’s delight — if you eat a modest amount of mayo.

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