The Magnificent Artichoke
One of my lasting impressions of “Spring Time on the Mountain” this year was the magnificent artichokes at Glenoch. But if you went looking for them amongst the vegies you would have missed them, they were in the main garden in all their glory under planted with perennials!
I can’t think of any other vegetable that gives such a wow factor in the garden.
The plants are quite beautiful, like giant ferns and the artichokes can be various colours including silvery green and deep purple. It’s the heart at the base of the flower bud that you’re after and sometimes the work involved in extracting the heart puts people off cooking with artichoke.
A thistle would be one of the last things for a gardener to plant, but that is what they are!
Olive and Artichoke Spread
- 30 kalamata olives pitted
- 4 tbsp tomato pasta sauce
- 1 clove minced garlic
- 4 artichokes prepared and boiled (or 1 can)
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt and ground black pepper to taste
Puree all ingredients together to form a rough chunky paste.
1. Spread slices of grilled bread with goats feta, slice over ripe tomatoes and top with a little of the spread
2. Spread over boneless salmon steaks or chicken breasts before baking or roasting
3. Mix through vinaigrette dressing for a Greek salad or a chicken or lamb salad with tomatoes, peppers, sliced red onion and rocket or baby spinach leaves
4. Toss through cooked pasta with chopped tomatoes, basil leaves and crumbled feta.
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.
Eaten by rampaging Romans and philosophising Greeks in the first centuries AD, artichokes are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world.
Artichokes were first cultivated at Naples and gradually spread to other sections of Europe. After Rome fell, artichokes became scarce but re-emerged during the Renaissance in 1466.
Florists have long recognised the appeal of artichoke buds and flowers. Look closely next time you admire one of those enormous flower arrangements in a hotel foyer. Some artichokes never make it to the dinner table.
When choosing an artichoke get one that is heavy for its size and if it squeaks when you squeeze it, you have found a fresh artichoke.
How to Grow Artichokes
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 October through to January and should be picked when young and fresh with firm green leaves.
I like to grow an artichoke in each of my garden beds as they are a breeding ground for lady bugs, and we know that they are a gardeners’ friend, eating aphids and other bugs off the vegetables.
Uses For The Artichoke
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.
Olive and Artichoke Spread served on grilled bread with goats fetta and tomatoes
- 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.
If you are not growing artichokes but would like some, the best way to get them is to ask Joseph (from Josephs green grocers in Main Street on the mountain) to order a box in, and share them with a friend.