06 Jun2006

vege1

Artichokes and White Asparagus – two great culinary reasons to be in Spain and Italy in the Spring! Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are believed to have evolved from Cardoons and are credited to Sicily or more likely, Northern Africa, and have been enjoyed for many, many centuries. vege2They are frequently mentioned in books, recipes, etc. from the 1500’s and onwards, according to Elizabeth Schneider’s book, Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini and Alan Davidson’s The Oxford Companion to Food. Artichokes were at the peak of their season in late-April and early May and I fully intended to get my fill of this vegetable that is generally not available fresh in Manila. Over the course of two weeks, we had young artichokes battered and fried, raw artichokes sliced and served in salads with superb olive oil and a touch of lemon, boiled or steamed and served with a dip of olive oil and anchovies. I also understand that folks in Barcelona grill them and serve them with olive oil…yum.

At the markets, they were an utter bargain and nice medium sized artichokes could be purchased for 1 Euro per kilo which included roughly 7 pieces. I purchased some one afternoon from a pile vege3of very fresh artichokes with tight heads (as soon as the bracts start to open, it’s past its prime) at La Boqueria. Back at the apartment, I trimmed them and plunged them into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes until cooked. I prepared a simple olive oil and balsamic dip and started to munch on the leaves by using my two front teeth to scrape off the tended insides of the leaf. I quickly discovered that these artichokes were quite young and VERY fresh so there wasn’t much meat to scrape but the hearts were absolutely delicious. We ate them with some excellent slices of Jamon Jabugo and my daughter finished at least 1 and ½ artichokes (this was the first time she has ever tasted them, I think)! I think I ate close to 4 artichokes! At restaurants throughout the trip, I was amazed to see how their menus so closely reflected what was at the markets at that point in time…this is so different from our restaurants here in Manila.

Also on offer were these incredibly spectacular white asparagus. Medium thick stems and very tight heads, these only needed a slight peeling of the stem a quick blanching in hot water and served with butter or a vinaigrette. We had them as an appetizer at home one evening and theyvege4 were intensely asparagus-y, but with a flavor more complex than the ordinary green asparagus. I can actually see why these are prized in some parts and if you manage to get incredibly fresh specimens, they are really good. I have actually found white asparagus in Manila before and while pretty good, their European cousins were very impressive…I like white asparagus either hot or cold, the latter in salads… The white asparagus were more expensive than the artichokes, about 6 Euro per kilo but you can easily feed 4 with a kilo of white asparagus…

 

COMMENTS:

  1. SimplePleasure says:

    I absolutely love asparagus however I never tasted white asparagus before do they taste the same as their green cousins? or much better?
    I’ve alsways been curiuos how artichoke would taste like whenever I see them being cook in some food show they look so yummy. Could you describe what hey taste like?

    Jun 6, 2006 | 11:52 pm

     
  2. Apicio says:

    This reminds me of a story of Somerset Maughan about an impoverished English gentleman who was compelled to order the cheapest item in a Paris restaurant because his date ordered the most expensive one, white asparagus. And a movie where the role played by Paul Newman proceeded to eat his asparagus with knife and fork to the visible unease of the other dinner guests.

    In our frustration with the banana hearts available here, they are bitter and blackish being harvested from the wrong variety and the tinned ones are even revolting looking like swill, we experimented with artichokes since they have similar texture as an addition to kare-kare. It works beautifully.

    Jun 7, 2006 | 1:58 am

     
  3. Lou says:

    My 2 big faves! While I’m no fan of the plump white asparagus (they have a bit of a bitter taste)the green ones are for me the best ever. The French are very into the white asperges, and prefer the very slim green asparagus only. In Canada and the US, the green asparagus are the most consumed and I’m glad the artichokes are getting popular more than ever. I love the nutty taste of its core but enjoy most that nice feeling of sliding the individual leaf between one’s teeth to scrape the tender flesh, yummy! Even my daughters are now avid eaters of both. Frankly, nothing beats the fresh taste of asparagus and artichokes! Way to go, MM!

    Jun 7, 2006 | 3:31 am

     
  4. Marketman says:

    SimplePleasure, the white asparagus are more “fino” and good specimens have a buttery, nutty, earthy and sometimes slightly bitter tinge. The key to white asparagus is to eat it as soon as it is harvested. They are grown under soil/sand so that they never turn green (never see the sun). If you buy them at markets, the ideal travelling temperature is about 40-50 degrees from the time it is cut to the time it is sold. If it is warmer than that, they rapidly turn woody. I think most folks who have tried white asparagus but were not impressed tried poorly transported versions. I love both green and white asparagus but I can see why the gourmands lean towards the white. Funny you should ask me to describe the taste of an artichoke. It’s not so easy. But I agree with others who say a good raw artichoke tastes like a good freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil…a bit bitter, a bit astringent, very fresh and earthy yet absolutely delicious. I fell in love with raw artichokes in Italy this last trip. Cooked artichokes have a more complex flavor and it depends how you cook them, deep fried, boiled, in stews…

    Apicio, yes, the Europeans revel in eating these with their fingers. If just plain steamed, I would do the same, but if brought to the table with a little butter or cheese or sauce, I too would use a fork and knife. There is something about asparagus, not just the taste, the shape, the reaction in the bathroom an hour or so later (think Love in the Time of Cholera by Garcia-Marquez) that adds to its mystery or high regard most folks give it… When purchased in the markets, the cost was high but still affordable. A homemade generous serving cost roughly USD3 each. This would have easily cost USD15 at a restaurant… Nice touch, actually, using the artichoke leaves in the kare-kare. I saw a cooking show where they braised young artichokes in tomato sauce and that looked good too…

    Lou, sounds like you are a big fan of both… I have to agree with most of what you have said. But if you get a chance and come across very fresh or well handled white asparagus, try it again with an open mind…they are superb. Poorly handled, they taste pretty awful.

    For all, here is an interesting link re raw artichokes, etc. http://www.divinacucina.com/code/leo.html and includes a recipe for homemade marinated artichokes…

    Enjoy!

    Jun 7, 2006 | 6:50 am

     
  5. rina says:

    hi MM, the farmers market season has hit calgary already, and I chanced upon baby artichokes which i cut up and roasted with garlic, EVOO and some lemon juice…very nice caramelized exterior and you can even eat the choke, the leftovers I plan to top a homemade pizza with, along with some feta cheese, roasted red peppers and kalamata olives.

    Jun 8, 2006 | 11:31 am

     
  6. Marketman says:

    rina, that sounds superb. If you get really fresh chokes, try slicing the inner leaves and heart very thinly (almost shaved) then dress with very good olive oil some lemon and salt. Serve with steamed shrimp. Excellent.

    Jun 8, 2006 | 12:59 pm

     
  7. Lou says:

    thank you MM. I’ll keep an open mind about these white asperges. And you’re right, I probably didn’t get them as fresh as they should in my favorite veggie kiosk. Or even better, try to find a farm where white asparagus are being grown and harvest them myself to assure peak freshness, hehehe. And I’ll surely try raw artichoke salad served with roasted shrimps instead of steamed; I’m already salivating!!!

    Jun 8, 2006 | 5:51 pm

     
 

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