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Springtime artichoke recipes

Alexandra Greeley is a passionate foodie whose kitchen career has included a stint as food editor of Vegetarian Times magazine, where she learned a whole new culinary discipline.

Artichokes: Versatile Vegetable

As a native Californian, I had always taken a proprietary stand on the artichoke issue. Not that I developed artichokes or even owned any artichoke-bearing plants - it is just that Californians believe that the center of the artichoke universe is-¦California. That is, until I ate artichokes in Spain and Italy, where - come artichoke season - markets are flooded with adult and baby artichokes destined for the cookpot and a sluicing with olive oil and fine seasonings.

Artichoke

ANCIENT ARTICHOKES

A perennial plant that grows year round in a suitable climate and is native to the Mediterranean region, the artichoke has a distinguished and lengthy past, first noted in the third century BC in Greece, but a few centuries later, more widely publicized as being a product of Sicily, Italy. Whatever its origins, the artichoke plant loves warm climes and fertile soils to reach its four-foot height. The artichoke thrives in Spain, Italy, France and California, where the center of the American artichoke culture is Castroville. Folks in Castroville commemorate the artichoke annually with a big artichoke bash called the Castroville Artichoke Festival in mid-May, a party that includes artichoke eats, a parade, music, a farmers' market and a 10-K run. It is easy to love artichokes, for their tender flesh, hidden beneath a ring of leaves and a crown of thistles, with a uniquely sweet-savory taste, one that gets along well with a variety of other flavors. The only way an artichoke may seem out of place is baked into a confection or frozen into an ice cream or sorbet — but it is on the mark for breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes.

APPROACHING ARTICHOKES

Artichoke detractors do exist, put off by the seeming complexity of eating the artichoke, shaped roughly like a pinecone with a compact body of leaves, a central and hidden clump of thistles, and the edible base, or heart as the cognoscenti call it. But eating an artichoke is really very simple. Snap or cut off the stem end, snap off the tough base leaves, and trim off the prickly tips of the leaves with sharp scissors, rubbing cut surfaces with lemon juice. Trim away any dark green bits from the base of the artichoke. Using a sharp knife, cut about one-quarter to one-half inch off the top. Cook the whole artichoke in acidulated water (water with some lemon juice or vinegar) to prevent the leaves from darkening, and when the base is tender, remove the artichoke and drain it upside down for a few minutes. Open out the leaves so you can scrape out the inner thistles, revealing the base of the artichoke. Then, enjoy, dipping the base end of the leaves in lemon-butter and cutting the heart into succulent pieces. Or fill the center with a savory filling, and serve. On the other hand, if cooking an artichoke still seems like a daunting task, food packagers have made the eating artichokes much easier. By cleaning, trimming and cooking fresh artichokes, packagers can present them canned as whole hearts minus leaves or quartered hearts with leaves; jarred as marinated artichoke hearts to toss into salads; and as frozen and quartered artichoke hearts — all of which make these "thorny" veggies easier to use for bolstering hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner entrées.

ARTICHOKE RECIPES

Springtime Artichoke and Goat Cheese Frittata
Serves 4 Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 to 2 teaspoons minced garlic
6 eggs
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 ounce crumbled goat cheese
1 (13.75-ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, as desired Directions:
Preheat the broiler. Heat the oil in a 9- or 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and sauté until the shallots soften. Add the eggs, parsley, goat cheese and artichoke hearts, and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the bottom and sides begin to firm and turn golden. Put the skillet in the oven, and broil until the surface browns and puffs. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired, and serve hot. Orzo and Artichoke Hearts
Serves 4 to 6 Ingredients:
8 ounces uncooked orzo
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 to 2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 (13.75-ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
8 ounces mini red and yellow bell peppers, tops removed, quartered lengthwise
1 (12-ounce) package crumbled soy "meat"
2 cups favorite pasta sauce
7 ounces shredded mozzarella-flavored vegan cheese Directions:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain, and set aside. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes. Stir in the artichoke hearts, bell peppers, soy "meat" and pasta sauce. Stir together, and cook until the mixture is heated through. Stir in the orzo, and sprinkle on the cheese, letting it melt throughout. Serve hot. Vegetarian Stuffed Artichokes
Serves 1 Ingredients:
1 (10-ounce) large globe artichoke
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup ground soy "meat" or tempeh
2 tablespoons pesto
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 canned artichoke hearts, diced
1 tablespoon shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon capers Directions:
Trim and cook the artichoke until tender. Drain, and when cool enough to handle, scoop out the inner choke and discard. Set aside. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and add the soy "meat," pesto, Parmesan cheese, artichoke hearts and mozzarella. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until heated through. Spoon mixture into the center of the artichoke, sprinkle with capers, and serve.

For more super springtime recipes, visit these links:

Roasted Portabella Mushrooms with Lucini Artichoke Tomato Sauce

Dynamite dips: Spinach Artichoke Dip, Baba Ganoush, Apricot Goat Cheese Dip and Pistachio Orange Dip

Spring Vegetable Stew

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