Nov 20, 2014

At Home with ARTICHOKES

Downtown Kaunakakai, Hawaii
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I was surprised when I came to Moloka'i to see artichokes in our two grocery stores in Kaunakakai. Kaunakakai is our largest town and that's saying a lot. Just one main street with a few old wooden buildings. Most of the residents on Moloka'i are not what I would call adventurous eaters. Yes they eat turkey tails and pork belly, but then so do I, but I can't see locals eating artichokes. A few years ago I was asked by the lady who was in charge of the produce department at Friendly Market how you cook artichokes. Naturally I told her what I knew, she shook her head, smiled and that was it.

I spent a few years living near the heart of the artichoke growing world, Watsonville, California. Artichokes have been harvested in this area since 1922. Driving around that area, you will see massive fields of huge thistle plants with beautiful globes of artichokes sticking out like marshmallows on a stick (click here for artichoke photos from Watsonville). All you have to do is pull your car into one of many roadside artichoke stands and buy any size you like. However, just like everything else, after a while you take them for granted... until I moved to Hawaii, then I wanted them back, like dungeness crab, crusty bread, and mortadella sandwiches. Anyway you get my meaning.

My mother introduced me to artichokes about 55 years ago when we lived in Memphis, Tennessee. She was a good cook and one day she came home with a bag of artichokes. She boiled them and served them to us with a melted butter dipping sauce. I have been cooking artichokes that way ever since, with one minor adjustment, I put soy sauce in my butter now.

Artichokes like my mother cooked them
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For those of you who have not had the pleasure of eating artichokes, this blog is for you. Artichokes are strange looking with prickly pointed leaves, but at the heart of the leaves is the gold. Wonderful buttery artichoke meat. Getting to that heart is the adventure, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Take two large artichokes, trim the brown tips off of the bottom of the stalks, then trim the fiber off of the outside of each stalk, just cutting about 1/8-inch off the entire length. The next thing to do, at least some people do this, is to take some kitchen sheers and trim the tips off of the outside leaves. That way your guests won't get pricked, plus that's the way fancy restaurants do it... I don't bother with that step. Also remove any very small leaves from around the stem by just pulling on them.

Now you are ready to boil the chokes. Simply place your two trimmed artichokes in a large pot. Fill the pot with warm water to about 2 inches from the top. Set the pot on the stove and add a tablespoon of sea salt to the water and also a healthy splash of olive oil. Put the top on the pot and turn up the heat to high until the water boils, then turn it down to simmer leaving the top on the pot. Simmer for one hour, then remove the artichokes to a large dinner plate. When the chokes are almost cooked, melt a stick of butter in the microwave or in a small pot. Add about 1/4 cup of soy sauce to the butter. Sir the mixture and pour into two small ramekins as your dipping sauce. That's all you have to do. Other popular dipping sauces are lemon-butter, or mayonnaise.

Now comes the fun part, learning how to eat the artichoke. Peel off a leaf, dip the bottom meaty end in the sauce, then drag the leaf between your teeth. Repeat this process until you have eaten all of the leaves. At that point you will be down to the thistle or hairy part of the choke which needs to be discarded. Just take a spoon or dinner knife and remove the hairs from what is known as the artichoke heart... the best part! Take you knife and cut the heart into four equal pieces right through the stem. Dip them in the remaining sauce for four of the best bites known to artichoke lovers.

Note: Many artichokes recipes call for frozen artichokes, and unfortunately, all that Moloka'i grocery stores carry are canned or jarred. If more people ask for frozen, perhaps they will bring them in.

Artichoke Dip with a Little Kick
This is a classic recipe, but you can add spinach, shrimp, or crab if you like.

Ingredients:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 (14-ounce) cans water-packed artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed, and chopped
3 green onions, sliced thin
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded pepper-jack cheese
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Procedure:
Beat the softened cream cheese in a large bowl with a hand held electric mixer until creamy. Add the mayo and sour cream and beat until smooth. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, except the Parmesan cheese, until combined. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese and bake in a pyrex pie plate or casserole dish at 350˚F oven for 40 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden brown. Serve, cooled slightly, with crackers, pita chips, corn chips, or toasted rye bread.

Creamy Artichoke Soup
This recipe is based on a creamy soup served at Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero, California.

Ingredients:
2 large fresh artichokes
2 (14-ounce) cans water-packed artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
1 (12-ounce) can chicken broth
2 (10.5-ounce) cans condensed cream of celery soup
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup parsley, chopped fine (to make the soup a little greener)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
warm crusty bread, for serving

Procedure:
Precook two large fresh artichokes covered in a large pot of water with 1 tablespoon of salt for 1 hour, (this can be done a day ahead of time). Reserve 1/2 cup of the water from the cooked artichokes.
Creamy Artichoke Soup
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Drain and rinse the canned artichoke hearts. Then purée the canned artichoke hearts with the 1/2 cup of the reserved artichoke water and the chicken stock, with a stick a blender. Transfer puréed artichokes to a 6-qt. pot. Add the cream of celery soup, cream, parsley, garlic, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, about 15 minutes. (Stir soup occasionally so the soup at the bottom of the pot doesn't scorch.) Strain soup through a mesh strainer into a clean pot over low heat; discard any stringy solids. 

To serve, remove the leaves from the cooked fresh artichokes, discarding the small outer leaves. Set the other leaves aside and remove the hairy fuzz from the artichoke hearts with a spoon. Cut off the stem from the hearts and discard. Cut the hearts into small chunks, ladle soup into 6 bowls and garnish the soup with the cut artichoke hearts. Place the best artichoke leaves around the soup bowls on a soup plate beneath the soup bowls for eating with the soup. Serve with warm crusty bread. Makes 6 servings. (see photo).

For another delicious "Cream of Artichoke Soup" recipe, visit this site.
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