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A ROSE AMONG THORNS

Artichokes are one of those foods you either love or hate _ or haven't tried. It's surprising how many people are intimidated by this thorny-looking green, which in truth is a member of the thistle family.

Safe to say, though, that if you've never tried an artichoke, you don't know what you're missing.

According to Patty Boman, manager of the California Artichoke Advisory Board in Castroville, Calif., the vegetable is low in calories (about 25 for a 12-ounce choke) and is a good source of vitamins A, B and C. Artichokes contain almost no fat and are very low in sodium.

As with popcorn or baked potatoes, it's what you put on an artichoke that increases its calorie and fat content.

"Most people like to dip them in mayonnaise or butter," Boman said. Low-calorie alternatives to those accoutrements would be yogurt-based dips or a vinaigrette.

"Artichokes can be boiled, steamed or microwaved," Boman said, pointing out that her favorite means of preparation is the microwave. To microwave, place four medium artichokes in a Pyrex dish _ stems cut off and upside down _ with \ cup water and cook on high for 20 minutes.

Whether microwaving, steaming or boiling, remember that any flavor enhancers added to the water will be transmitted to the choke. Steaming or boiling artichokes takes anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes depending on the size, Boman said.

"Common mistakes people make with artichokes are over- and undercooking them," Boman said. To test for doneness, pull out an inner leaf. The leaf should come away easily. Also, the end of a stem can be poked with a fork. If it goes in easy _ like a baked potato _ the vegetable is done.

"The fuzzy center isn't harmful (to eat) like many people think," Boman said. It is not, however, very appetizing, since its texture is likened to hair.

"You can't put artichokes down a garbage disposal," Boman warned, since the fibers have a tendency to tear up those units.

Of course, when artichokes were first eaten, that was not a problem. Records of the vegetable being consumed go back 2,000 years.

While today's artichokes probably were cultivated from the wild plants of Italy, the name came from the Arabic al kharshuf and was brought by Moroccan invaders to Spain, where it became alcachofa. The Italians changed it to carciofa.

According to Patricia Rain's The Artichoke Cookbook, the first written record of artichokes in the United States was in McMahon's Gardeners Catalogue in 1806.

In the mid-1800s, French immigrants brought artichoke plants to Louisiana, where the Creole artichoke was grown, Rain writes.

In the late 19th century, Italian immigrants began planting California's first commercial artichoke fields south of San Francisco. Today, California acreage in artichokes is just less than 12,000.

In California, artichokes are harvested 30 times a year. The large chokes are now available in stores and cost anywhere from 79 cents to $1.25 each, depending on the market.

"The baby artichokes are very versatile," Boman said, noting that she uses those in her lasagna.

In the summer, Boman also likes the larger chokes cooked and chilled, filled with a pasta or seafood salad or drizzled with vinaigrette.

To store artichokes, Boman recommends sprinkling them with water and storing them in plastic bags for up to one week. Cooked artichokes also can be kept in the refrigerator for a week, but make sure they are sealed well.

Artichokes with Pumate Dip

} to 1 cup (2 ounces) sun-dried tomatoes

{ cup olive oil

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

{ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

[ teaspoon pepper

Salt to taste

4 cooked medium artichokes

Pour boiling water to cover sun-dried tomatoes and let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and cut into small pieces. Process all ingredients except artichokes in food processor or blender until almost smooth. Add salt to taste and blend well. Halve artichokes vertically; remove fuzzy centers. Fill centers with dip. Makes 4 servings.

To cook medium artichokes: Trim stems so artichokes stand upright. Cut \ to off top of artichokes, if desired. Stand prepared artichokes in deep saucepan or pot with 3 inches boiling water seasoned with 3 slices lemon, 1 tablespoon olive oil, { teaspoon salt and \ teaspoon each crushed basil and oregano. Cover and boil gently 25 to 40 minutes depending on size or until petal near center pulls out easily. Stand artichokes upside down to drain.

Baby Artichoke Risotto

6 to 8 (about 1 pound) baby artichokes

Water

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon lemon juice

4 to 4{ cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 small clove garlic, minced

2 cups uncooked Italian

Arborio rice or medium grain rice

{ teaspoon each dried basil and oregano, crushed

Salt and pepper to taste

\ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

6 lemon wedges

Trim artichoke stems; cut off the top \ of the artichoke. Remove outer leaves of artichokes until pale green petals are reached. Halve or quarter artichokes depending on their size. Cut out fuzzy centers if necessary.

Place prepared artichokes in saucepan with water to cover, 1 tablespoon olive oil and lemon juice. Bring to boil; simmer, covered 12 to 15 minutes or until barely cooked. Remove artichokes and set aside, reserving cooking water.

Add enough cooking water to chicken broth to equal 5 cups and bring to simmer. In another saucepan (heavy bottom is best), saute onion and garlic in remaining olive oil until onion is tender. Add rice and partially cooked artichokes; saute lightly. Add 1 cup simmering broth/cooking water and seasonings; cook and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add remaining broth, { cup at a time, and cook and stir after each addition until all broth is absorbed before adding more broth.

Cook and stir until rice is tender and creamy but not runny. Rice should be cooked in about 30 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese and parsley. Serve with remaining cheese and lemon wedges. Makes 6 servings.

Serving tip: Remove fuzzy centers from 6 cooked medium artichokes. Fill with Baby Artichoke Risotto.

The following recipes come from Patricia Rain's The Artichoke Cookbook. The book is available for $10.95 plus postage and handling through Patty Boman, California Artichoke Advisory Board, P.O. Box 747, Castroville, Calif. 950012.

Sotere Torregian's Stuffed Artichokes

\ cup olive oil

{ to cup Kasseri cheese, grated

1{ cups bread crumbs

4 to 6 artichokes

1 to 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove small leaves at bottom of artichokes. Cut off stems and clip each leaf with scissors.

Mix together olive oil, Kasseri cheese, bread crumbs, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Stuff mixture between leaves of artichokes, pouring a little olive oil on each. In a heavy pot with about { inch of water in bottom, place artichokes so they touch. Bring water to boil, then reduce to simmer and put cover on pot. Simmer about 1 hour or until leaves are easy to pull away from artichokes. Dip artichoke petals into olive oil and garlic. Serve with warm pita bread.

Artichokes Provencale

1 tablespoon shallots (or green onions) finely chopped

1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced

2 ounces clarified butter

{ cup tomato, diced

\ cup mushrooms, sliced

[ cup green onions, sliced

16 to 20 shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cube butter

Salt and pepper

1 large artichoke

Chopped parsley and scallions as garnish

Saute shallots, or scallions, and garlic in clarified butter.

Add diced tomato, mushrooms and onions. Cook until nearly soft, adding 16 to 20 shrimp for the first 3 to 4 minutes of sauteing.

Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and cube butter. Allow the ingredients to sit while preparing artichoke so that flavors can meld.

Cook artichoke, then cut in half and clean out inner choke and small green leaves. Fan the artichoke leaves out on a plate. Fill the center depression with shrimp, then pour the sauce over the shrimp and artichoke halves.

Garnish with chopped parsley and onions.

Pasta with Artichokes

12 tiny fresh artichokes or 1 package frozen artichoke hearts

1 onion, chopped

3 tablespoons butter

2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped

{ cup white wine

Juice of { lemon

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces fresh fettuccine _ white, green or mixed

cup toasted cashews, chopped, pine nuts or almonds

{ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Salt and pepper to taste

Trim artichokes and prepare as for hearts, cutting in halves or quarters. (If using frozen artichokes, thaw package and use as they come from the package.)

Saute onion in butter until the onions are translucent.

Add garlic, wine, lemon juice and artichokes.

Cover and cook over medium heat 1 to 2 minutes.

Add heavy cream and cook, uncovered, 2 to 3 minutes longer until mixture thickens slightly.

Add fresh fettuccine, cooked, chopped nuts and Parmesan cheese.

Toss, then add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

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