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Bobby R. presents: Choke on this

A much underused vegetable available year round in San Diego is the artichoke. Initially, the prehistoric appearance is intimidating but once you finish this column, it will be as easy to prepare as a side dish of mashed potatoes.

The two most common types of the globe artichoke found in our markets are baby and adult. Baby artichokes can be steamed, sautéed, braised and fried after the outer leaves are removed, exposing the bright green inner leaves. Adult artichokes require a little more work because of their size, but give a far earthier flavor once steamed or stuffed.

Baby artichokes can be eaten whole as long as they are cooked until very tender. The adult artichoke is a little more involved with respect to consumption: each of the outer leaves have a bit of “meat” on the base which is scraped off using your top teeth. A plain artichoke leaf can be dipped in butter or mayonnaise, while a stuffed artichoke will be distributed throughout whatever you chose for the filling.

Once all the leaves have been plucked and consumed of their “meat,” there remains the artichoke heart, which is a bit like the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. The heart can be eaten whole with your fingers or cut with a fork and knife. Either way creates a feeling of accomplishment, but before you get to the “heart” of the matter, the vegetable requires some preparation.

Cleaning the artichoke:

The exposed surfaces of an artichoke will begin to oxidize, turning the flesh brown. Prevent the discoloration by having a bowl of cold, acidulated water close by; water that has had some lemon or vinegar mixed into it. Drop the artichokes in the water once they are cleaned or rub the surface with a halved lemon if they begin to brown too quickly.

Cut off the top 1⁄4 of the artichoke using a serrated knife.

Peel back the outer most layers of leaves until you get to the very pale green ones.

Using kitchen shears, cut off any remaining hard, pointed tips from the leaves.

Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, shave off the outer layers of the base (and stem, if still attached) until the softer flesh beneath is exposed.

For baby artichokes: cut in half, length wise, and remove any fuzz or purple leaves from the center. They are now ready to cook.

For adult artichokes: invert the vegetable top down on your work surface. Gently push down in a circular motion spreading all the leaves away from the center. First pull out the purple leaves using your fingers as best you can, then remove the remaining purple leaves and fuzz with a soup spoon or melon-baller.

I believe that the Jerusalem artichoke deserves a notable mention too. Also known as a Sunchoke, it is not an artichoke at all, instead a tuber from the sunflower family. It has a nutty-sweet flavor that is nice in salads and soups, as well as numerous other applications. I bring it up here so that you may impress your friends by identifying this erroneous moniker the next time you are in the produce section.

Here is a soup recipe using both globe and Jerusalem artichokes, giving an overall roundness to the flavor profile. Hurry up and prepare it before spring is here and hot soups are out.

Questions and comments to: bobbyrpresents.blogspot.com.

Cream of Artichoke Soup

You will want to purchase 3 large globe artichokes with the longest stems you can find. First squeeze the juice of 1⁄2 lemon into a large bowl of water and drop the lemon half in. Reserve the other half of the lemon to rub down all cut pieces of the artichoke and stem before dropping them into the acidulated water.

Working one at a time, cut off the stem of an artichoke. Using a vegetable peeler, strip away the outer layer of the stem until the pale core is exposed. Continue cleaning the artichoke as described in the column text. It is important to remove a bit more of the outer leaf layers for this recipe so the soup will not be too fibrous. Here, cutting the artichoke into 8 wedges facilitates the removal of the purple leaves and remaining fuzz. Continue the process with the remaining two artichokes.

Peel 1⁄2 lb of Jerusalem artichokes as you would a carrot and cut into 1⁄4 inch pieces. Using a 4-6 quart heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat until the foam subsides. Add in:

1⁄2 cup diced onion

1⁄4 cup diced celery stalks

Jerusalem artichoke pieces

Sauté until tender (about 5 minutes) Add in 1 tbsp chopped garlic and continue to sauté until the garlic is just golden (about 3 minutes). Add in the trimmed artichoke wedges and stems drained from the acidulated water. Stir to coat all ingredients and add in a tbsp more of oil if necessary. Continue to sauté until the Jerusalem artichokes are crisp and the globe artichoke pieces begin to slightly brown (an additional 5 minutes).

Add in 3⁄4 cup dry vermouth, increase heat to medium high, release any browned bits from the bottom of the pot and reduce the volume by half (about 5 minutes). Add in 4 cups of chicken stock or broth (reference “stock”ing up at bobbyrpresents.blogspot.com) and simmer until the artichoke wedges are VERY tender which will take about 30 minutes. If you like a thicker soup, reduce the chicken stock volume to 31⁄2 cups.

Remove from the heat and puree the soup either in the pot with an immersion blender or in small batches using a counter blender being extremely cautious with the hot liquid. Return the pot to medium heat and add in: 3⁄4 to 1 cup of heavy cream, depending on the consistency you like, plus salt and pepper to taste.

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Posted by on Feb 3, 2011. Filed under Bobby R. Presents. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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