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Articles - Gourmet Pleasures:

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A real taste treat – fresh or preserved in oil

Many people are only familiar with artichokes preserved in oil in a jar. But many more are discovering the delights of freshly picked and cooked artichokes, plain with a sauce or stuffed. You can buy globe artichokes almost all year round. In spring you’ll find young green or purple artichokes on the vegetable markets. These are completely edible, apart from the outer leaves. They can be used raw in salads, or steamed and served with a vinaigrette dressing or a rich sauce.

Preparing globe artichokes

Wash the artichokes and cut off the stalk. It’s rather bitter, but some people like to eat it too. You can also break off the stalk over the edge of a table or worktop. Then pull off the tough outer leaves and cook the artichokes for 30 to 45 minutes in an inch or two of water to which you’ve added salt, a squeeze of lemon juice to keep the cut surfaces from going brown and a bay leaf. You can weight the artichokes down with a plate to keep them more or less under water during cooking.

Cooking and serving globe artichokes

Artichokes are said to stimulate your appetite, so they make an excellent starter. You could serve artichokes with a vinaigrette sauce, for example, or with melted butter or hollandaise. Allow one artichoke per person. You pull off a leaf, dip it in the sauce and then chew away the fleshy end. The tough leaf and the fibrous choke are not edible. But the final treat is the heart, which you cut into pieces, dip into your sauce and eat. Many people think artichokes are unbeatable served simply with a sauce, but you could also include then in a savoury tart, with pasta or on a pizza. Or fill them with carrots, smoked ham and mushrooms. Artichokes are low-calorie, but rich in B vitamins, vitamin E, provitamin A and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. The substance mainly responsible for the mildly bitter taste is cynarin.

The story of globe artichokes, buying and quality

The artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is a type of thistle belonging to the Asteraceae family and originally growing in the eastern Mediterranean region and considered a delicacy by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Artichokes are perennials and grow to be large bushes The part we eat is actually the flower bud. People growing artichokes commercially renew their plants every four years or so when harvest start to decline. If you’re shopping for artichokes make sure they feel firm and full and their stalks look fresh and green. There should be no dry or brown spots. Wrap them in a damp cloth and you can store them in the vegetable drawer in your fridge for several days.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de