Thursday, December 2, 2010

A fringe of leaves

The first time I ever ate artichokes was in Albania. They're wonderful things, so beautifully shaped, and it feels so decadent eating them - delicately nibbling off the bottom of each leaf until you get to the succulent heart.
       Last week my friend Lesley and I had lunch with Ali at Eastbourne. She's a great gardener and has a magnificent row of artichokes, and she cooked them for lunch.

       You can do them in a pressure cooker for about 20-30 minutes, depending on size and age, or just boil them steadily in a large covered saucepan for 40-50 minutes, until an outer leaf pulls off easily, and when you push a sharp knife or skewer down into the heart, it feels soft
        The small ones early in the season take less time, but Ali says she tends to leave them till they're bigger - the leaves are a bit tougher, but there's more favour, and more heart.  And she always washes them well first, to get rid of any passengers - "finding a cooked earwig on the leaf you're about to eat is not nice".
         The best thing to have with them is garlic butter: melt what looks like a suitable quantity, and add crushed garlic to taste, some black pepper, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of olive oil (not extra virgin) to make it a bit less rich. Mayonnaise is good too.


milliemirepoix said...

I've only just started cooking asparagus in the last year or two but in the last few weeks I haven't been able to get enough. How lucky that you have a friend with a whole row of them! Do you know if they're very easy to grow?

AnneE said...

I guess you meant artichokes? I don't think they're difficult, but they take a lot of space and need a lot of feeding.

Ali said...

Anne's right - globe artichokes do need lots of room, and they are gross feeders. But if you have the space they're worth it! (The plants are very ornamental, which is a bonus.)
You can buy plants at most garden centres. Choose a sunny well-drained position, allowing about a square metre per plant, and add compost and sheep pellets to the soil plus a handful of general fertiliser. Keep the plants well watered and feed them generously in early spring, and you should get a good crop in early summer. The plants put out new side-shoots over the winter, eventually forming a big clump which needs to be divided every 4-5 years.

Rachel McAlpine said...

Thanks for the nostalgia buzz! We used to live on these yummies (I exaggerate) in Geneva in artichoke season. Then we grew them in our Masterton garden for years, so the artichoke parade continued. Now I'm reduced to the occasional purchase. Woe is me.

milliemirepoix said...

Ha ha Anne, yes, I meant artichokes. I blame it on lack of sleep and general craziness of this holiday season!! ;)

One day when I have a decent-sized garden (more than just pots on the balcony) I will give artichokes a go!