Produce Pete's Thanksgiving Holiday Table
For the next 3 weeks Produce Pete will be talking about an abundance of produce for your holiday tables. There is nothing like fresh produce for your Thanksgiving table. Knowing good produce, how to pick and what to do with it, we'll make your holiday special. Food and family, family and food, what could be better.
Artichokes are actually the giant, unopened buds of a flowering plant - an edible relative of the thistle. They've been a favorite in Spain, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries for hundreds of years, but many people here still think of them as fairly exotic. Although they take a little time to eat - there's no way you can wolf down an artichoke - they're actually fun to dismantle; and the tender flesh at the base of the leaves and especially at the heart has a distinctive sweet, nutty taste that's absolutely delicious. Artichokes can be prepared in dozens of ways, and I like all of them.
The largest crop of artichokes is still produced in Mediterranean countries, but California is the biggest supplier in the U.S. Castroville, located near San Francisco, calls itself the Artichoke Capital of the World; and the whole economy of the place revolves around the vegetable - there's even a statue of an artichoke in the middle of town. With its cool, humid, foggy weather, the area is perfect for growing good artichokes.
There are three basic types of artichokes, plus a new "thorn less" variety that's beginning to appear on the market. The globe type is the most common, with a large fairly round shape and smallish barb on the tips of the leaves. The oval artichoke is very thorny, with a longer, more pointed leaf. The taste of both is identical and they can be cooked in the same way, but I find that glove artichokes are usually more tender.
The third type is the small, loose baby artichoke, which is often marinated whole in vinegar and oil after it has been washed and dethorned. Most baby artichokes don't have many thorns in the first place, and they can be eaten whole, without removing the "choke".
Thornless artichokes are also available. I find them to be excellent if they're from California but unreliable if they've been imported from Mexico or Chile. The imports are difficult to cook properly because it's hard to get the timing right - some cook fast and tender, others take an hour and either stay raw or suddenly turn to mush. The imports are usually a paler green than the California crop, but it you're in doubt, ask your produce manager.
The peak of the season is in March, April, and May, when California producers ship nearly half the annual crop, but artichokes often show up in the fall. The worst time for artichokes is in the dead of summer (July and August) when growing conditions are too hot and dry for good artichokes. However, they are available year round.
Look for fat, firm-looking buds with dense, tightly packed leaves of a uniform dusty green. Lots of black spots tired color, or opened leaves indicate an older artichoke that will have a woody taste. An artichoke with one or two black spots, on the other hand, isn't always a bad risk. Don't worry if the artichoke is discolored on the stem end - you're going to cut that part off. When selecting an artichoke, gently pull back the central leaves, taking care not to prick yourself on the thorns, and look into the heart. If there is no black showing inside, the artichoke is good. At home you can be more aggressive - turn the artichoke upside down and give it a good whack or two on the counter to make the leaves open out more easily.
Artichokes that have developed purpling on the leaves have been exposed to too much hot sun and will be much less tender. An artichoke that shows some bronzing and peeling has had a touch of frost, which won't hurt the flavor and may in fact improve it. If you're unsure about what kind of discoloration is okay and what kind is not a good rule of thumb is not to buy discolored artichokes in the summer.
Artichokes are quite perishable. Use them as soon as possible. Refrigerate for one week only if necessary.
There are a thousand ways to cook artichokes, but one thing to avoid is to cook them in an aluminum pot since they will turn a gray-green color. To prepare them for the pot, rinse the artichokes in cold water, handling them carefully so that you don't prick yourself on the pointed barbs at the end of each leaf. The barbs are softer and easer to handle after the artichoke is cooked, but many people prefer to remove them beforehand by snipping off the tips of the leaves with kitchen shears or scissors. Remove the thorns from baby artichokes that you intend to eat whole.
Recipes with Artichokes
Bette's Stuffed Artichokes
Broccoli is packed with beta-carotene; the precursor to vitamin A that researchers believe has ant carcinogenic properties.
Thomas Jefferson first brought broccoli seeds from Italy to Monticello. Broccoli didn't really catch on in the U.S. until the twentieth century, as Italian immigration increased. Italian farmers started growing it in California. They knew how to cook it and by the mid-1920's broccoli was becoming more popular. Although broccoli is grown almost everywhere, the bulk of the crop is still grown in California.
A cool-weather crop planted in the spring and fall, broccoli is available year round, but the peak of the season is March through November. It's usually very consistently priced, but when the price jumps up 30 to 40 percent, you know it's out of season and in short supply.
Look for a firm, clean stalk with tight, bluish-green florets. Check the stalks to make sure they're not too thick and hard - they will be a bit woody. Most important, the florets should be tightly closed and the broccoli should have little or no fragrance. Broccoli is eaten at an immature stage, left to grow in the field, the buds will open into yellow flowers. Buds that are starting to open and look yellowish will be mushy and have a strong cabbage taste. Use your nose when you're selecting broccoli; if a head has an odor, it's not good.
Broccoli will keep up to seven days if refrigerated and kept moist. You can break apart the stalks and put them in ice water or spread crushed ice on top. Or wrap broccoli in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel and place in the crisper.
The less you do to broccoli, the more it will do for you. Broccoli will lose up to 30 percent of its vitamins and minerals when it's cooked, so for nutritional reasons as well as good flavor, never overcook it. Broccoli is also very good raw on a platter of cruditˇs, added to other vegetables in a salad or served with dips.
At certain times of the year, broccoli may harbor a bug or worm or both. When cleaning, soak the head in salted water about fifteen minutes, and the critters will float to the top.
Broccoli can be prepared in countless ways. Sautˇ it with garlic and onion. Add it to pasta, or serve it blanched and cooled in vinaigrette. It's excellent simply steamed for a few minutes and served with a dab of butter or squeeze of lemon - or both. To steam, put it in about half an inch of salted water, stem ends down. Don't let the buds touch the water - they'll cook very quickly and will get mushy and disintegrate. Cover and cook over low to medium heat for no more than four to five minutes - just until it is fork tender. Check the pot once or twice to make sure there is adequate liquid in the bottom to keep from burning, and add a few tablespoons of water as needed. Properly cooked, broccoli has a delicate flavor and arrives at the table tender-crisp and bright green. If you're going to add lemon or vinegar, do it at the last minute because they tend to drab the color.
At my house we also eat broccoli in a stir-fry, with snow peas and pork. And in the wintertime I love Bette's Cream of Broccoli Soup. It's rich, but is it good!
Recipes with Broccoli
Bette's Cream of Broccoli Soup
Broccoli a la Dolores
An old Italian favorite, cardoon is also known as cardoni or cardone. It looks like pale, overgrown celery, with long, flexible stalks lined with jagged leaves. The outer stalks are very fibrous and covered with prickly thorns; the inner stalks are pale, tender, and succulent.
Cardoon is never eaten raw, but it's delicious cooked - when breaded and fried, it tastes almost like veal cutlet. The flavor is like a cross between artichoke and celery. Cardoon is a traditional dish among Italians around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the vegetable is often hard to find because most people don't know what to do with it.
A relative of the globe artichoke, cardoon is a member of the composite family, a name that derives from the Latin for thistle and includes lettuce, dandelion, endive, and Jerusalem artichoke. It originated in the Mediterranean area and was widespread through southern Europe by the Middle Ages. Well liked by the Romans, cardoon was consumed in large quantities by pregnant women, who believed it would give them male children. Cardoon is now grown mainly in Italy, France, Spain, Argentina, and Australia. Early colonists and Italian settlers in North America first cultivated cardoon on the East Coast and later in California, which is about the only place in the U.S. that grows it commercially. But you can still find cardoon growing wild on the roadsides in new Jersey and other eastern states.
Available September to March, mostly in Italian specialty markets.
Cardoon comes in gigantic stalks that range from six to ten pounds. Look for firm, very crisp cardoon with a touch of dew on it - almost as if you were choosing celery. The large top leaves are always cut off when it's harvested, and discoloration at the cut edge is normal.
Since the stalks are so large, you may not want to use more than half at a time. Cut the cardoon crosswise and use the top half first - the base will keep longer. Wrap it in a damp paper towel, place in a paper or plastic bag, refrigerate in the crisper, and it will hold a week or two but no longer. Never let it dry out - dried-out cardoon is inedible.
Cardoon is usually precooked before use in recipes to tenderize and remove any bitterness. Handle the plant very carefully, as its leaves are thorny and will prick your fingers. Slice off the top of the cardoon and discard the tough outer leaves, then separate the inner leaves, wash individually, and trim the leafy edges off each stalk with a carrot scraper. That's where the thorns are, but you need to remove only a thin layer, as if you were peeling celery. Cardoon may discolor as you work with it, but the color will even out as it cooks.
The pared stalks can be sliced, diced, or julienne, according to your recipe. To precook, put the pieces into a large quantity of boiling salted water with a little vinegar or lemon juice, and cook about 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain and discard the water; then proceed with your recipe or simply serve with a little melted butter and salt and pepper. Once cooked, cardoon turns the same grayish color as overcooked artichokes, and like artichokes, it should never be cooked in an aluminum pot. While its color isn't particularly pretty, it tastes great.
Cooked, drained cardoon is very tasty marinated in a good vinaigrette - let it stand in the refrigerator overnight, then garnish with olives and capers and serve cold. For a good mixed vegetable dish, sautˇ a little garlic and some onion in olive oil, add plum tomatoes, cooked cardoon, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper, and simmer five to ten mintues. Cardoon is especially delicious pounded, breaded, and fried like cutlets or fried tempura-style and served with anchovy sauce.
Recipes with Cardoon
Cardoon Tempura with Anchovy Sauce
Take a look at Thanksgiving Feast Part 2.
Other recipes from Produce Pete.