Artichokes

Artichokes

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

Maybe it has something to do with the fast pace of the world we live in, but many people consider artichokes to be much too much like hard work. It is true that they are not for those who like to eat on the run, as they require a certain level of commitment to prepare. Indeed, it must have been a brave and determined individual who first attacked the artichoke with a view to eating it. First you have to hack off the spiky outer leaves, and then do battle with the hairy, tickly central choke in order to arrive at the prized heart.

Artichokes are viewed much more favourably in the Middle East and Mediterranean countries, where they grow like the thistles they in fact are. They are particularly popular in Italy, not only for the antipasto platter, but also for a variety of Jewish–Italian dishes, such as the famous deep-fried artichokes (known as ‘carciofialla Giuda’), stuffed artichokes (‘carciofiripieni’) or artichokes with rice (‘riso con carciofi’).

The Jews introduced artichokes to the northern cities of Italy in the sixteenth century, after their communities fled Sicily and the ferocious Spanish Inquisition. Sicilians often claim the artichoke as native to their island, but historians think it more likely that they were introduced by the Arabs during their occupation of the island in the ninth and tenth centuries. Whatever the truth, they were clearly greatly enjoyed by the Arabs, who named them al-kharsuf. This is the origin of ‘carciofi’ in Italian, ‘alcachofa’ in Spanish, and of course our English word, ‘artichoke’.

Artichokes became popular in Renaissance Italy and then in France, thanks to Catherine de Medici, who moved there on her marriage to Henry II. Her fondness for them was considered most unseemly by the French court, given the artichoke’s reputed aphrodisiac qualities – although this is no doubt the very reason that England’s King Henry VIII took to them so eagerly.

Nowadays artichokes grow all around the Mediterranean and the Middle East, where they are cheap and plentiful. Fresh artichokes have a delicate, almost nutty flavour, which lends itself particularly well to Arabic styles of cooking. For instance, they are delicious crumbed or battered and deep fried, or braised in olive oil with other vegetables. Artichoke hearts with broad beans, in one of many common cross-cultural anomalies, are a popular Friday night dish in both Jewish and Arabic communities. They are also equally popular stuffed with a delicate meat and nut filling or a robust anchovy and crumbing mixture.

A good introduction to this refined vegetable is pickled artichokes, preserved in oil, which can be found in any good delicatessen. These are good scattered through salads, to which they add a lovely nutty flavour and a slight acidic bite. They also complement the richness of offal, and are particularly good with smoked tongue. Although the shop-bought versions can be good, they don’t come close to those prepared at home. All that’s required for their preparation, really, is a little courage.

Selecting and storing artichokes

Artichokes come in all different sizes, but the ones most readily available in Australia tend to be quite small, when compared to the giant beauties on offer in Europe. However, the smaller size does not mean that they are inferior. Choose firm, crisp-looking vegetables which feel weighty. The stalk should still be attached and the leaves should be tightly packed together. Artichokes deteriorate quite soon after picking and as they age, the whole plant starts to droop. As they dry out they slowly turn brown and the leaves open up.

Quite a few of our recipes include pickled artichokes. The recipe for preparing them follows, but it may be more convenient for you to buy them. They are readily available, although quality is varied. The best are preserved in oil rather than brine, which gives an unpleasant ‘tinny’ flavour.

Using artichokes

Larger artichokes need first to be trimmed of their tough outer leaves, and the stalks sliced off so they will sit flat on a plate. Smaller artichokes may only need to be carefully washed and the stalks cut. Some people also like to trim neatly across the top leaves – this is best done with sharp kitchen scissors. Once cut, artichokes discolour quickly, so drop each trimmed vegetable into acidulated water straight away, where they will sit quite happily until you are ready to cook them.

The simplest way to cook artichokes is to boil them in plenty of boiling salted water and lemon juice. Cover them with a plate, to keep them under the surface, then cover the pan and cook them for 10–20 minutes, depending on their size. To check if they are cooked, carefully remove an artichoke from the pan and gently pull on a leaf. If it comes away easily, it is ready. The artichokes should then be drained and left upside down until you are ready to eat.

Artichokes cooked in this way are best eaten warm, rather than hot from the pan, and need lots of sauce to accompany them. At its simplest, this can be melted butter, with plenty of salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Delicious variations might be a tangy vinaigrette, a rich hollandaise sauce or mayonnaise, or a light refreshing Avgolemono sauce.

Braising artichokes in a niçoise or à la grecque manner is merely a variation of the simple boiling method. The whole artichoke should be prepared as above, but cooked in a pan of water with plenty of olive oil and aromatics. They can be eaten straight away, or preserved in their poaching liquor for future use. We use artichokes cooked in this way in all sorts of dishes.

Other recipes require only the inner artichoke hearts, but these dishes are only worth preparing if you have large artichokes. Prepare them as above, with a pan of acidulated water close to hand. Trim the stalk and then start snapping off the leaves, rubbing the raw edges of the vegetable with half a lemon as you go. Keep going until you get to the pale, thin, tightly furled leaves inside the artichoke. At this point you can slice off the top part of the artichoke, scoop out the choke and discard these parts. Rub the heart all over with the cut lemon and then drop into your acidulated water.

Recipes in this Chapter

    No results found
    No more results
      No results found
      No more results
        No results found
        No more results
          No results found
          No more results
            No results found
            No more results
              No results found
              No more results
              Please start typing to begin your search
              We're sorry but we had trouble running your search. Please try again