Ingredients

The Artichoke

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When and how did you first eat an artichoke?
What is an artichoke?
It is a variety of thistle, which has not yet flowered. I love it but can imagine, when faced with it on your plate for the first time, it can be a daunting task to eat it
The whole artichoke is normally served steaming hot or cold, the latter being easier to deal with but not so tasty.
It is served, more often than not, with a delicious home made hollandaise sauce or very simply with a bowl of tasty mustard mayonnaise and a dash of balsamico added to it or a simple herb vinaigrette dressing.
Starving with hunger you bite into the leaves, which you have carefully tugged from it base, one by one, whilst holding on to the artichoke with the other hand. When it is hot that is no mean feat. Then comes the art of dipping the leaves in the sauce, and sucking the sauce up whilst using your teeth to prise the flesh off from the leaf. Then the moment of heaven arrives, you have reached the choke – the undeveloped flower – now to get at the bottom. Scoop out the choke, sometimes called hay, carefully with your knife or a spoon. Savour this moment with passion, cut the heart into bite-sized pieces and pop into your mouth. The sweet, slightly salty bitter taste comes from the stimulating compound cynarin. The somewhat earthy flavour, combined with the soft texture creates an epicurean experience. The soft texture, the wonderful buttery sauce or a mustard mayonnaise or vinaigrette, makes for a divine moment.
A few tips:
Artichokes should be compact as petals of a flower, with no leaves opening out and the leaves in the centre should be very tight. To test for freshness, squeeze the artichoke and it will squeak. Leaves or bracts as they are called should be plump
Stems full and firm, not spongy, if really fresh and if not too old and fibrous, you can boil and eat the stems
When cleaning and trimming the artichoke use a serrated edged knife, there is less chance of the knife slipping and therefore cutting your fingers.
When boiling, bring the water to the boil with a little salt, carefully drop in the artichokes, cover the surface of the water and the pan with a cloth, place a smaller lid than the pan on top and push down carefully – this will keep them submerged under the water whilst cooking. Place the ends of the cloth on the lid to stop the water running on to your stove.
Cook artichokes for 25 to 45 minutes or until the outer leaves can easily be pulled off.
In France they often use “a blonde” – mix a little flour with water to a thin paste and add to the cooking liquid before bringing to the boil. This forms a thin coating over the water. Keep artichokes fresh after buying by wrapping in plastic and storing in the fridge.
There are many different ways of preparing artichokes and as they are one of my favourites many more recipes will follow

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