In appreciation of artichokes


Baby artichokes aren't immature globe artichokes; they're just smaller artichokes that grow nearer the ground instead of at the very top of the plant.

They range from walnut- to egg-sized. They lack the thistlelike "choke" nestled in the tender heart near the base. Otherwise, they are just the same as larger artichokes.

Baby artichokes are wholly edible once trimmed and cooked, and don't need as much trimming as their larger counterparts. Some people like to cut medium and large baby artichokes into halves or quarters. Leave the little walnut-sized ones whole.

Baby artichokes are available year-round but are at their peak in March, April and May, according to information from Baroda Farms, an artichoke grower in California's Lompoc Valley.

All artichokes may be "frost-kissed," or slightly bronzed, but the brown patches on the leaves disappear in cooking and actually are said to contribute flavor to the vegetable, according to another artichoke grower, Ocean Mist of Castroville, Calif. To tell if an artichoke is fresh or tired and old, rub the leaves together. If they squeak, the artichoke is fresh.

Artichokes will keep for a week if kept cool and moist (not wet). Sprinkle them with water and put into a plastic bag; store in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

To prepare baby artichokes, wash in cold water, says Cathy Thomas in Melissa's Great Book of Produce. Use a sharp knife, not carbon steel, to cut off the stem at the base and cut to remove the top 1/2 inch of leaves, she says. Remove a few outer leaves. Bend them back until they snap, so that the edible portion at the bottom remains. Trim the sides of the base with a paring knife as if peeling an apple.

A cup of artichoke is a good source of vitamin C and folate, Thomas says.

Artichokes have an affinity for seafood: oysters, crab, mussels. They're good with chicken, too. Use baby artichokes in recipes calling for large artichokes or artichoke hearts.

Boil, steam, microwave, grill, roast or deep-fry them. Some people like them steamed, then marinated in garlicky olive oil. Baby artichokes can be quartered and tossed into rice, couscous or pasta, says Thomas, or just accompanied by a dipping sauce such as plain yogurt, lemon juice or a mixture of melted butter and soy sauce.

Robin Mather Jenkins writes for the Chicago Tribune. Sun reporter Kate Shatzkin contributed to this article.

Artichokes a la Grecque

Serves 4 to 6 -- Total time: 30 minutes, plus cooling time

20 baby artichokes

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons coriander

1/2 teaspoon peppercorns

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup lemon juice, strained

bouquet garni (2 sprigs of thyme, 1 bay leaf, a 5-inch piece of celery and a 5-inch piece of fennel)

Pare and trim the artichokes, which should be of relatively uniform size.

Combine 1 1/2 quarts water with the olive oil, coriander, peppercorns, salt, lemon juice and bouquet garni in a large pot and bring to a boil.

Add the artichokes. Bring back to a boil and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until tender.

Transfer the artichokes and the cooking liquor to a large bowl to cool. At this point, you can either can the artichokes or store them in the refrigerator the way they are and use them, within a week or so, in composed salads, pasta dishes, etc.

Per serving (based on 6 servings): 224 calories, 4 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fiber, 18 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, no cholesterol, 502 milligrams sodium

Adapted from "Larousse Gastronomique," 1961 edition. Recipe and analysis provided by the Los Angeles Times.

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