I walked into the greengrocers in Ilkley where I live and saw a basketful of large artichokes from France.Two things caught my eye. Their beautiful mauve, scaly bracts and their size. If artichokes are large their 'hearts' are big enough and nutty enough to stuff and make a satisfying meal. If they are too small I don't really think they are worth bothering with.
Fresh artichokes are mostly about texture. They can be eaten raw, or cooked al dente so their texture is similar to a wet walnut. They taste nutty too and have a satisfying bite and a gentle earthy flavour. They lend themselves to being stewed in chunks or if left whole, then stuffed and baked. They mingle well with robust Mediterranean flavours and textures.If they are freshly picked they are also beautiful served simply with a little seasoned butter, vinaigrette or freshly made Hollandaise sauce.
An artichoke is an immature thistle. If you cut a cross section through the artichoke you will see that it is made up of lots of tiny flowers. An inflorescence that has the appearance of a single head but is in fact a composite flower. If left to mature the artichoke will develop into a tall purple thistle. Artichokes are a member of the sunflower family.
The artichokes photographed here looked full of promise and I decided to prepare their hearts with a simple stuffing of sour dough bread crumbs, garlic, onions, anchovies and herbs. I placed them in a covered Le Creuset pan with a glass of white wine and cooked them covered for half an hour in a hot oven.
The only thing I would say is that preparing artichokes involves a great deal of rather beautiful vegetable debris - purple heart shaped leaves, lots of fluffy golden hair etc. So get your compost bin ready.
If you want to grow artichokes you need a sunny spot. They are large architectural plants and made a statement in any garden. The seeds are large and quick to germinate. They are easy plants to grow if you have space. But you better get on with it if you want some artichokes this year. The good news is you still have time.
Serves 2 as a starter or light snack
2 globe artichokes
1 small onion finely chopped
1 glove garlic, finely chopped
50g sour dough or other good bread made into breadcrumbs
1 tbsp parsley,chopped
1 can of anchovies, drain but retain the oil
tbsp of stoned green or black olive (optional)
1 tsp thyme, chopped
zest and juice of a lemon
salt and black pepper
1 wineglass of white wine
To watch a video of how to prepare a globe artichoke scoot over to the Guardian's website to view or else stick with the written instructions here. To prepare the artichoke trim 5cm below and above the base of the choke. Peel back the outer leaves to reveal the fleshy, creamy coloured base. Zest the lemon and keep on one side. Cut the lemon in half and rub the cut surface of the lemon over the creamy surface of the artichoke. Take a pointed teaspoon and insert it into the centre of the artichoke and scrape out the hairy inside. Place the prepared artichokes in an oven proof dish which has been lightly oiled with olive oil.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6
Prepare the stuffing:
Gently fry the chopped onion and garlic in a little olive oil until soft. Place in a bowl with the breadcrumbs and parsley. Chop drained anchovies and add them to the breadcrumb mix together with the olives thyme and lemon zest. Season well and add a little of the anchovy oil to the bread crumbs.
Place half of the filling in each artichoke and scatter any remaining stuffing over the top. Pour the wine around the artichokes and dribble a little olive oil over the bread crumb stuffing. Cover with foil. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for a further 10 minutes to brown the breadcrumbs.
Serve with warm, crusty bread and maybe some baked vine tomatoes and roasted garlic.