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Artichokes

Artichokes


One of summer and fall's delightful fresh vegetables is the artichoke. The artichoke isn't really a vegetable -- it is actually a type of thistle flower. You can find artichokes in many forms: frozen, fresh and even marinated. There are many ways to enjoy artichokes. Artichokes look a little daunting at first, but preparation is in fact very simple and they have a very subtle but amazing flavor.

When you look at your artichoke you will find that the leaves have tiny thorns on the tips of the leaves, as you peel off the leaves you will find a fuzz that covers the artichoke heart. The fuzz should be scraped off and discarded before you eat the heart, which is widely considered to be the best part of the artichoke. When you prepare your artichoke you can trim off the thorns from the leaves, but you don't have to trim them as long as you are careful as you eat them.

Steamed Artichokes
The most basic way to enjoy an artichoke is to steam it. You steam them whole after cleaning them carefully. When you eat the artichoke you start by peeling off the leaves and scraping off the flesh inside the leaf with your teeth. You can enjoy the leaves with mayonnaise, melted butter, lemon juice or even different types of vinaigrette. After eating the leaves you will have uncovered the heart, which is covered in the fuzz, which you gently scrape off with a spoon and discard. Then you can enjoy the heart.

You will need:
4 large artichokes

Start by carefully cleaning the artichokes. Trim the artichokes by trimming the bottom of the stem. You can also trim off the tops of the leaves to remove the small thorns, but this step is optional. Finally, make sure you peel off the small fringe leaves on the stem.

Next, place a steaming rack in the bottom of a large pot. Put about one inch of water into the bottom of the pot. Bring the water to a boil, then put the artichokes in the steaming rack, stem side up. Cover and steam over medium to high heat for about 40 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender. Remove the artichokes from the rack and serve hot.

Artichoke and Spinach Dip with Crostini
A nice hot artichoke and spinach dip, served with toasted baguette is a great appetizer for any occasion.

You will need:
1 1/2 cups chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup frozen artichokes
3/4 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
pinch cayenne pepper
fresh french baguette, cut into 1/2 inch slices

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Toss the frozen artichokes with 2 tsp to 1 tbsp olive oil, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread the artichokes over a baking sheet. Roast the artichokes, stir occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges of the artichokes are browned. Allow the artichokes to cool and then coarsely chop.

Heat 2 tsp of olive olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and chopped spinach and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Put in a bowl and set aside.

Stir the cream cheese, mayonnaise, parmesan, lemon juice and cayenne into the onion and spinach mixture. Stir the mixture until the cream cheese and mayonnaise are smooth and uniform. Finally gently stir in the chopped artichokes. If you would like, you can season with salt and pepper as desired. Transfer the dip into an 8 inch square baking dish and spread until it is evenly dispersed.

At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days or you can serve immediately. To serve, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Uncover and bake until the dip is hot through, and the top is golden brown about 25 minutes. Allow the dip to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with crostini, cut the fresh baguette into 1/2 inch slices. Spray a light, even coating over both sides of the slices. Lay out in one layer on a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and bake until the slices are dry and crispy, about 10 minutes, turning once.

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