Saturday, 6 October 2012

HOW TO COOK ARTICHOKES

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Related to the cardoon, globe artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) are native to the Mediterranean, and have been cultivated in Sicily since the time of the ancient Greeks. They derive their name from the Italian word ‘articiocco’, which comes from the Ligurian word ‘cocali’ meaning pine cone.

Artichokes are perennial thistles, developing in their first year and flowering in their subsequent years. The edible artichoke that we eat is the unopened flower of the plant, which is picked and eaten before it matures.  

Artichokes are considered a culinary delicacy and have been highly prized in the past.  And no wonder, when they have so many health benefits.  Artichokes have more antioxidants in them than any other vegetable. They are rich in vitamin C, iron and potassium and  have been found to reduce cholesterol. They can improve digestion and a medium artichoke contains more fibre than a cup of prunes. In addition, they have cancer fighting properties. 

When using artichokes in your dishes ensure they are fresh.  Select artichokes with deep green leaves which are tightly held together.  Artichokes lose weight (and water) as they age so select buds that are firm and weighty. Although artichokes store well, it is best to buy or harvest artichokes close to when you wish to cook them. You can store then in the fridge successfully for several days, or up to a week if in a plastic bag. When harvesting artichokes cut the 3-5 cm from the stem to leave a short stalk on the bud.

Prepare the artichoke by removing any thorns that may appear at the end of the outer petals. Whilst some shop bought varieties are almost completely thornless, seed grown plants will often show a little genetic variation which can result in a rows of inedible thorns. The petals themselves are bitter tasting and inedible, but once cooked in boiling water these easily peel away from the base of the flower head.. The heart of the artichoke is the best part, and has a sweet, juicy and meaty flavour.  Avoid the hairy choke of the plant and the bitter tasting stem.

Artichokes are used in many dishes but can be cooked simply by boiling until soft for approximately 30 minutes until a skewer easily goes through them.
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