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Eaten by rampaging Romans and philosophising Greeks in the first centuries AD, artichokes are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. The thistle family may seem an unlikely source of culinary inspiration, but the enduring presence of artichokes in Mediterranean cuisine for thousands of years is testament to their versatility and fantastic flavour - both of which make these good-looking flower buds an enticing choice for spring and summertime eating.
Artichokes are easy to grow provided they have plenty of sun, well-drained soil and regular water during summer. Make sure you allow plenty of space, as one plant will become surprisingly large. Artichokes will multiply naturally over time. They are in season from mid spring through to mid summer and should be picked when young and fresh with firm green leaves.
Preparing artichokes is a bit like preparing broad beans – there’s not a lot left at the end but what is there is worth the effort. Have ready a bowl of water with the juice of a lemon squeezed into it, as artichokes discolour quickly once sliced. Pull the outer layer of leaves off the base. Slice the top quarter off the head and use a small paring knife to remove all the dark green outer skin from around the base. Do the same to the stem so only the lighter-coloured, tender portion in the middle remains. Cut artichokes in half lengthways, remove the tough, prickly pink flower buds and use a spoon to scrape out the hairy choke. If the artichokes are very small you may not need to remove anything. Place the prepared artichokes in the lemon water as they are done. They are now ready for all manner of treatments. Artichokes are superb stuffed, roasted, marinated and used in pasta, risotto and salads. Boil them for 10-15 minutes before using in cooked dishes, or thinly slice and serve them raw, drizzled with olive oil or dressing.
Read my blog featuring artichokes here.
These are some of my favourite recipes for artichokes:
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