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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Tip Of The Day

TIP OF THE DAY: The New “Dirty Dozen”

The “dirty dozen” of produce refers to those fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide residues. If you’re going to buy organic versus conventional produce, these are the foods to buy.

Since agricultural practices change, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) creates an annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides to reduce your exposure to chemical pesticides.

It ranks 48 popular fruits and vegetables by their pesticide loads. The rankings are based on lab tests done [mostly] by the USDA, which tests more than 34,000 samples of common food crops for pesticide residue.

Rinsing and peeling conventional produce does not remove all of the chemical residue. Some plants absorb pesticides through the peel.

Nor does washing and peeling change a food’s ranking, because the USDA lab tests produce as it is typically eaten: washed and, when applicable, peeled.

But the EWG underscores that the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks from pesticide exposure. In other words, eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating enough fruits and vegetables at all.
 
WHY SOME PRODUCE HAS TO BE “DIRTY”

Crops differ in their hardiness—whether they’re more or less susceptible to intense heat, cold, rainfall, drought, fungus or other disease, etc.

   

assorted-apples-USApples-230

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it also has the highest amount of pesticide residue. The solution: Buy organic! Photo courtesy US Apples.

 
In the case of bugs, some crops are more readily attacked and destroyed by the hungry little critters. So chemical pesticides are used to kill the bugs, fungus, etc. before they kill the crop.

Organic farmers use natural pesticides and fertilizers—no chemicals. The expense of growing crops this way leads to the higher cost of organic produce.

Some shocking statistics:

  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
  • A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 diffent pesticides.
  • A whopping 99% of apple samples, 98% of peaches and 97% of nectarines tested positive for at least one pesticide.
  • Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries each showed 13 different pesticides.
  •  

    asparagus-twine-230

    Eat all the asparagus you like: They’re one of the most pesticide-free veggies. Photo courtesy California Asparagus Commission.

     

    THE 2015 “DIRTY DOZEN” FRUITS & VEGETABLES

    Ranked from highest (dirtiest) to lowest (cleanest of the Dirty Dozen) are some of our favorite fruits and vegetables:

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Imported Snap Peas
  • Potatoes
  •  
    Wow!

     
    We’ve been buying organic celery for years (it’s been on the Dirty Dozen list for a long time). But we’re going to go our of our way for organic apples and strawberries, two fruits we eat almost daily.

    We’ll also buy more of the Clean Fifteen, produce with the least amount of pesticide residue.
     
    THE “CLEAN FIFTEEN” FRUITS & VEGETABLES

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Frozen Sweet Peas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet Potatoes
  •  
    As an American consumer, the choice is yours!
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Uses For Marshmallows

    chocolate-vanilla-dice-230

    They may be delicious, but what if you have
    too many for straight snacking? Photo | THE
    NIBBLE.

     

    If you received marshmallows for Easter and are looking to do more than snack from the box, you can make hot chocolate, s’mores or rocky road brownies, cookies or ice cream.

    You can add them to peanut butter sandwiches and pancake batter, sliced or cut to size. You can make fruit and marshmallow skewers, or recipes with marshmallows from ambrosia salad to sweet potatoes.

    You can dip them in chocolate fondue. Add them hot or cold cereal. Toss coffee-flavored marshmallows into hot coffee.

    Use them as a pie topper: Bake the pie at 400°F for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the marshmallows are toasted.

    Or, try these less obvious uses for marshmallows:

  • Brown Sugar Softener: After you open a bag of brown sugar, add a few large marshmallows before you reseal it (we further double-bag the bag brown sugar in self-sealing freezer bags). The marshmallows will provide moisture that helps keep the sugar soft.
  • Candle Holder: For birthday cakes or cupcakes, place each candle into a marshmallow before placing on the cake. When you remove the candles, there are no wax dripping on the cake or holes in the cake.
  • Cone Drip Stopper: Place a small marshmallow (or cut a larger one) in the bottom of an ice cream cone to stop melted ice cream from pouring out the bottom.
  • Icing Protector: To keep foil or plastic wrap from touching the icing when you transport a cake, place a few large marshmallows on the tops and side of the cake.
  •  
    HOW TO KEEP MARSHMALLOWS SOFT

    Marshmallows should be stored in an airtight container. But if they begin to harden, you can:

  • Pop them in the microwave for five seconds (not longer or they will begin to melt).
  • Toss them into hot chocolate.
  • Place them in a resealable freezer-weight plastic storage bag with a slice or two of fresh bread. Depending on how hard they are, they can take one or two days to soften.
  •  
    IF YOU HAVE TOO MANY MARSHMALLOWS

    Stick them in the freezer, in the storage bag with the fresh bread.
     
    TO UNSTICK MARSHMALLOWS

    If your marshmallows have clumped together, unstick them by placing them in a plastic bag and adding a teaspoon or two of cornstarch or powdered sugar. Seal the bag and shake it vigorously to evenly coat the marshmallows. They should begin to come apart in a few minutes.
     
    Check out the history of marshmallows and much more about these sweet pillows.
     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make A Layered Salad With Leftover Ham

    ham-layered-salad-mccormick-230

    Toss today’s ham and hard-boiled eggs into tomorrow’s salad. Photo and recipe courtesy McCormick.

     

    Here’s a tasty way to make tomorrow’s lunch or dinner from today’s leftover ham and hard-boiled eggs (and any peas and salad dressing, too).

    When you don’t have Easter leftovers to make this layered salad, simply substitute other ingredients.

    Check your pantry and fridge for avocado, bacon, beans, blue or other cheese, carrots, celery, cooked green beans and/or potatoes, corn, leftover chicken/turkey/steak, mushrooms, olives, pimento, seafood or tuna and layer away!

    You can also include a fruit: apple, grapes or pineapple, for example.

    If you have a glass bowl to display the pretty layers, so much the better. A straight-sided bowl like this one is especially nice. Or, this smart glass mixing bowl set from Pyrex does triple duty: mixing, serving and storing.

    Prep time is 20 minutes, and the recipe can be made in advance.

     
    RECIPE: LAYERED SALAD WITH HAM

    Ingredients

  • 4 cups mixed salad greens
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 8 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
  • 2 cups cubed cooked ham or turkey
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PLACE the salad greens in the bottom of large serving bowl. Layer the tomatoes, 1 cup of cheese, peas, eggs, ham and onion over greens.

    2. MIX the mayonnaise, sour cream, dill weed and ground mustard in a medium bowl until well blended. Spread evenly over salad. Cover.

    3. REFRIGERATE for at least 1 hour or overnight until ready to serve. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup cheese just before serving.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Go Nuts With Non-Chocolate Easter Treats

    Rickys-Lucky-Nuts2-230sq

    Fill an Easter basket with all six flavors.
    Photo courtesy Ricky’s Lucky Nuts.

     

    It’s hard to believe, but not everyone likes chocolate. Our friend Maria, for example would rather have something salty, or a combination of sweet and salty.

    So she, and other salt fans, are getting salted nut treats in their Easter baskets.

    RICKY’S LUCKY NUTS

    We don’t know why they’re lucky, but they sure taste good! One of the co-founders is a chef and restaurateur who knows how to please palates.

    Ricky’s, of Durango, Colorado, takes non-GMO jumbo runner peanuts from Texas and turns them into distinctively flavored, all-natural treats. Flavors include:

  • Black Pepper & Sea Salt
  • Real Coffee
  • Spicy Chile Chipotle
  • Sweet & Smoky BBQ
  • Sweet Chai
  • Thai Red Curry
  •  
    Even the sweet flavors have enough balance to please the yen for savory.

    The packages, in a rainbow of different colors, deliver 7 grams of protein per ounce and a host of vitamins and minerals from this nutrient-dense food. Take that, chocolate bunny!

    Fill an Easter basket with one or more packages of each flavor. Get them at RickysLuckyNuts.com.

    Beyond snacking from the pack from the pack, toss them into salads (green and grain), mix them into cooked rice, add them to stir-frys and create ice cream sundaes (or toss them on a plain scoop). Yum!

     

    PLANTERS NEW TART FLAVORS

    Planters is known for salty nuts, sweet nuts and spicy nuts. Add to that tart nuts!

    Two zesty new flavors deliver a pleasing pucker to persnickity palates.

  • Planters Sea Salt & Vinegar Peanuts look like regular peanuts; but oh, what a nice punch of vinegar!
  • Planters Chili Lime Peanuts have a red-orange tint from the chili powder, which adds moderate heat to natural lime flavor.
  •  
    In pastel colors (green for Chili Lime, blue for Sea Salt & Vinegar), they deserve a place in any Easter basket.

    As with Ricky’s, each serving contains seven grams of protein and the other peanut nutrients.

    The flavors are packaged in six-ounce cans with re-sealable tops. You can find them at retailers nationwide.

     

    chili-lime-can-230

    One of two delicious new flavors from Planters. Photo courtesy Planters Nuts..

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Chocolate Bacon Bunnies

    What are you giving your favorite bacon lover for Easter? Oscar Mayer created these foodcraft projects: bacon-stuffed chocolate bunnies and an Easter basket filled with “bacon grass” and hard-boiled eggs—fun for breakfast on Easter Sunday.

    Go buy lots of bacon and get started!

    RECIPE 1: BACON-STUFFED CHOCOLATE EASTER BUNNY

    Ingredients Per Small Bunny

  • 1 hollow chocolate bunny
  • 2 strips bacon
  •  
    Tools

  • Frying pan
  • Paper towels
  • Sharp knife
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COOK the bacon to desired crispness. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside.

    2. REMOVE and discard any wrapper on the bunny. Heat a knife by running the blade under very hot water; then quickly dry the knife completely. Using the dry, warm knife…

       

    bacon-bunny-2-230r

    Hide bacon in a chocolate rabbit. Photo courtesy Oscar Mayer.

     

    3. GENTLY CUT the bottom off of the bunny; set it aside. Insert the bacon slices into the hollow bunny, breaking the bacon into smaller pieces as needed to completely fill the hollow cavity.

    4. REPLACE the bottom piece of chocolate on the base of the bunny. Heat the original knife or a smaller knife as in Step 2. Slowly run the flat side of the knife back and forth over the seam, melting the chocolate to reseal the bottom. Cover in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for up to five days.

     

    bacon-easter-grass-230

    Bacon “grass” for an Easter basket. Photo courtesy Oscar Mayer.

     

    RECIPE: BACON EASTER GRASS

    Depending on the size of the Easter basket, even a small basket can require a lot of bacon. We recommend having some Easter grass or shredded paper on hand to stuff the bottom of the basket, under the layer of bacon.

    Ingredients

  • Thick cut bacon (8 to 12 slices)
  •  
    Tools

  • Kitchen shears
  • Frying pan
  • Tongs
  • Paper towels
  • Easter basket and colored* hard-boiled eggs for serving
  •  
    *Here’s how to color Easter eggs.

     

    Preparation

    1. CUT each bacon strip lengthwise into three long and skinny strips, using kitchen shears. Cook them in a frying pan over medium heat. Use tongs to stir the bacon and fry them in squiggly shapes to the desired crispness.

    2. TRANSFER the cooked bacon strips to a paper towel-lined plate. Blot dry and let cool completely.

    3. FILL a small Easter basket with the fried bacon Easter grass and serve with hard-boiled, dyed Eater eggs nestled on top. If you’re not planning to eat your creation right away, cover it in plastic wrap and store in the fridge, for up to five days.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Dessert Pasta

    Most people think of pasta as a savory recipe. But the noodles themselves are very versatile. Made with flour, water and egg, they can be cooked for dessert as well as the main course.

    While not an April Fool joke, it seems like the right dessert for April Fool’s Day.

    The recipe was created by Michael Stambaugh of the El Conquistador Resort in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a recipe contest held by the National Pasta Association and the Culinary Institute of America. It won third place.

    After you master this recipe, you may develop your own ideas for variations on the theme of dessert lasagna.

    We’ve got 11 more recipes for dessert pasta. Take a look.

    RECIPE: DESSERT LASAGNA

    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 4 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 8 kiwis, peeled
  •    

    Dessert_Lasagne230-ps

    Fruit lasagna for dessert! Photo courtesy National Pasta Association.

  • 4 cups strawberries, washed and trimmed, 8 berries reserved for garnish
  • 4 cups blackberries, washed
  • 1/2 cup toasted, sliced almonds
  • Garnish: mint sprigs
  •  

    mixed-berries-greengiantfresh.com-230

    If you don’t like one of the fruits in the recipe, pick another to purée. Photo courtesy
    Green Giant Fresh

     

    Preparation

    1. COOK the pasta according to package directions, substituting 2 tablespoons of sugar for the salt. Rinse, drain and set aside.

    2. STIR together the ricotta cheese and ½ cup sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside.

    3. PURÉE 4 kiwis with 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor. Transfer the purée to a bowl and set aside. Rinse the processor bowl.

    4. PURÉE half the strawberries with 2 tablespoons sugar in the food processor. Strain the purée into a bowl and set aside. Rinse the processor bowl.

    5. PURÉE half the blackberries with 2 tablespoons sugar in the food processor. Strain the purée and set aside.

    6. SLICE the remaining kiwis into ¼-inch thick rounds. Slice the strawberries into 1/8-inch thick pieces. Slice the blackberries in half.

     

    To Assemble The Lasagna

    1. RESERVE 1/4 cup of each of the purées to use as a garnish.

    2. COVER the bottom of a 9-inch-by-13-inch glass baking pan with 3 lasagna noodles. Spoon 1/3 of the ricotta on top and spread it evenly.

    3. POUR the kiwi purée over the cheese and arrange the kiwi slices on top of the purée. Lay 3 more lasagna noodles on top and cover with 1/2 the remaining cheese.

    4. POUR the strawberry purée over the cheese and sprinkle with sliced strawberries. Lay 3 more lasagna noodles on top and cover with the remaining cheese. Pour the blackberrys purée over the cheese and sprinkle with blackberries. Top with a final layer of pasta. Cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

    5. TO SERVE: Sprinkle the lasagna with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and with the toasted almonds. Cut into 8 rectangles and use a spatula to set the pieces on dessert plates. Decorate the plates with dots of the reserved purées. Garnish each piece of lasagna with a strawberry and a sprig of mint.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Decaf Coffee Facts

    According to the National Coffee Association, 10% of coffee drinkers in the U.S. opt for decaf. Counter Culture Coffee, a coffee house in New York City, reports that 18% of its coffee sales come from decaffeinated coffee.

    There are good things about decaf, and less good. First, the good: In addition to avoiding jitters and helping you get to sleep, decaf in general is better for your health*. Here’s some reporting from Diana Villa at Care2.com. It’s not a comprehensive discussion, but we offer it as a starting point to those who wonder if decaf might be better for them.

    Decaf coffee is good for your liver.

    In a study of more than 28,000 participants over 10 years, one study found that people who drink at least three cups of coffee a day had lower levels of four liver enzymes often linked to damage and inflammation.
     
    Decaf coffee reduces diabetes risk.

       

    caffe-americano-black-filicorizecchino-230

    At least one in 10 Americans opt for decaf. Photo courtesy Filicori Zecchini.

     
    In another study, compared with people who drink no coffee, those who drank six cups of regular coffee a day had a 33% lower risk of type 2 diabetes. But those who drank one cup of decaf per day had a 6% reduction in type 2 diabetes risk.
     
    Decaf coffee cuts prostate cancer risk.

    In a study of 47,911 men by the Harvard School of Public Health, researchers found that those who consumed six or more cups of coffee a day—regular or decaf—had an 18% lower risk of developing prostate cancer, and were 60% less likely to die of it. The results suggest that it’s the coffee antioxidants, not the caffeine, that offer the protection.
     
    *This article is not a medical advisory; people with certain conditions or the potential to develop them should restrict caffeine. Discuss your caffeine intake with your healthcare provider.

     

    heart-design-cappuccino-filicorizecchini-230

    Decaffeinated coffee has more benefits than simply avoiding the jitters. Photo courtesy Filicori Zecchini.

     

    Now for the caveats:

    Decaf doesn’t mean caffeine-free.

    According to FDA regulations, coffee must have 97% of the original caffeine removed in order to be labeled as decaffeinated. If you drink five to ten cups of decaf a day, you can still be consuming the caffeine equivalent of a cup or two of regular coffee.
     
    The amount of caffeine in decaf coffee varies significantly.

    While a cup of regular coffee usually contains about 100 mg of caffeine, a 2007 Consumer Reports test of 36 popular brands found some cups of decaf that had more than 20 mg of caffeine. In this study, a cup of decaf from Dunkin’ Donuts had 32 mg of caffeine!
     
    Decaf might raise your cholesterol.

    According to the American Heart Association, decaffeinated coffee may raise your LDL [bad] cholesterol. Researchers tracked three groups of participants: those who drank three cups of regular coffee a day, those who drank three cups of decaf, and those who drank no coffee. Three months later, the decaf group alone experienced an 8% spike in apolipoprotein B, a component of LDL cholesterol.

     

    Not all decaf is created equal.

    There are different ways to decaffeinate coffee; some use chemical agents. Look for a Swiss Water Process or a brand that uses the CO2 method to decaffeinate. These two are also the only certified-organic methods to decaffeinate.

    And now, it’s time for our first cup of coffee of the day. We’re going for an espresso, caffeinated.
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Ways To Use Fresh Spring Peas

    Lovers of green peas (also called English peas and garden peas), you’re in for a treat. Spring is the season.

    It’s time to serve sides of fresh-steamed green peas and make some delicious fresh pea soup.

    But what else should you be doing with these bright green jewels? Their sweet flavor and bright color can grace your table in so many other ways.

    You can use almost any cooking method, from boiling, braising or microwaving, to sautéing, steaming and stir-frying. Add them raw to salads and pop them into your mouth as a snack.

    They take only a few minutes to cook. In fact, you need to watch them to avoid ending up with mushy peas (if this happens, make a quick pea purée; and if they’ve lost their bright hue, add a teeny drop of food color). We aim for “al dente.”

    Create recipes with these flavor accents:

  • Cured meats: bacon, chorizo, pancetta, prosciutto, smoked ham
  • Fresh herbs: basil, chervil, dill, mint, tarragon
  •    

    English-peas-3-thechefsgarden-230w

    Fresh picked and divine. Photo courtesy The Chef’s Garden.

  • The onion group: chives, garlic, green onions, leeks, ramps (spring onion), shallots; red, yellow or white onions
  • Proteins: chicken, duck, lamb, fish (especially cod and, salmon), seafood (especially scallops), tofu
  • Spring produce: asparagus, fava beans, fennel, fiddlehead ferns, Meyer lemon, morels, mustard greens
  •  
    We can’t think of anything more delicious than fresh peas with asparagus, fiddleheads, morels and ramps—or as many of these as you can get hold of—sautéed with garlic in olive oil. Garnish with a chiffonade of fresh mint.

    Don’t dally: The season is short! For inspiration, here are just ways to use the bounty of fresh peas.
     
    GREEN PEAS AT BREAKFAST

  • In an omelet
  • As a side with fried, poached or scrambled eggs
  • Atop Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
  • In a green smoothie
  •  
    GREEN PEAS AT LUNCH

  • In macaroni, potato or rice/grain salad
  • In a green salad or Greek salad*
  • Pea soup (try a spring recipe, with fresh mint)
  • Spicy fresh pea salad (recipe)
  •  
    Plus:

  • As a snack, raw
  •  
    *Romaine, bell pepper, red onion and feta, with a fresh dill garnish. Add some lemon zest to the vinaigrette.

     

    ricotta-pea-toast-chalkpointkitchen-230

    Easy, peasy: an appetizer or snack of crostini
    with ricotta and fresh peas. The recipe is below. Photo courtesy Chalk Point Kitchen |
    NYC.

     

    GREEN PEAS AT DINNER

  • Asian style: blanched or sautéed with ginger; then tossed with a soy, wasabi, ginger and garlic marinade
  • Bibb or butter lettuce salad with radish and green onion (scallion)
  • Blended half-and-half with cooked rice or other grain, topped with grated or shaved Parmesan cheese
  • Spring pea risotto, with pancetta or bacon plus garlic and onion
  • Cooked in olive oil and stock (recipe)
  • Pasta, especially with a white or olive oil sauce (add some prosciutto, bacon or a few grilled shrimp)
  • Pea & mint soup
  • Pea pesto, as a sauce or dip (recipe)
  • Pea purée as a side
  • Quickly sautéed in olive oil or steamed and tossed with butter
  •  

    RECIPE: GREEN PEA & RICOTTA TOAST

    Enjoy this for breakfast, as a first course or a snack. We chose a rustic Italian loaf with sesame seeds, but any peasant bread will do.

    Ingredients

  • Rustic bread loaf
  • Ricotta cheese (see if you can find it freshly made, at a cheese store or Italian market)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Green peas
  • Optional: lemon zest
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Garnish: baby arugula, pea shoots, microgreens or sprouts
  •  
    Preparation

    1. STEAM the peas to al dente and let cool. Combine the ricotta with salt, pepper and lemon zest to taste. Stir in peas to taste (few or many).

    2. TOAST the bread and slice as desired (depending on the diameter of the loaf, cut the toast into manageable pieces).

    3. SPREAD toast with the pea-ricotta mixture. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Garnish and serve.
     
    HOW TO BUY & STORE FRESH PEAS

    Buying Fresh Peas

    For the best flavor, choose small peas. They’re younger, sweeter and more tender than large ones. Look for medium-size pods that are firm and green, with no yellowing. Break open a pod and check the peas. They should be small, bright green and firm. Taste the peas in the pod: They should be tender and sweet.

    Freshness counts. As with corn, once picked the peas’ high sugar content begins to convert to starch. Don’t pay for mature peas. You might as well use frozen peas.

    Don’t pay extra for shelled peas. You don’t know how fresh they are; and since you aren’t shelling peas day in, day out, it’s a fun activity.
     
    Storing Fresh Peas

  • Store the pods in the crisper drawer of the fridge in a plastic storage bag. Use them within two days.
  • Once they’re shelled, the best way to store peas is to freeze them. First blanch them for a minute or two in boiling salted water and then shock them in an ice-water bath to stop the cooking and maintain ther bright color. Drain and freeze them in freezer storage bags for up to six months.
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Baby Purple Artichokes (Fiesole)

    In season now, these little artichokes are a treat for artichoke lovers and a lovely shade of vegetable for Easter dinner.

    Called fiesole (fee-YEH-so-lay) in Italian, the baby purple artichoke—the size of a large egg—belongs to the botanical genus and species, Cynara scolymus, which includes the green globe artichokes and purple globe artichokes.

    Artichokes are the immature flower heads of an herbaceous perennial thistle plant in the Compositae botanical family. The cardoon, or artichoke thistle/wild artichoke, is a different species: Cynara cardunculus. Here’s more about artichoke varieties.

    The tulip shaped baby purple artichokes have the same great flavor as their large green and purple kin and are easier to eat because they haven’t developed the fuzzy portion of on top of the choke. They are bright violet in color; the colors fade only slightly when they are cooked.

    The only thorn in the flesh is exactly that: The leaves still have sharp tips.

       

    baby-purple-artichokes-melissas-230

    Baby purple artichokes. Photo courtesy Melissas.com.

     
    Harvested young for tenderness and rich flavor, baby purple artichokes typically have intense fruity and nutty flavors and grassy tones, and are considered to be the most flavorful of all baby artichoke varieties.

    If you can’t find the artichokes locally, you can buy them from Melissas.com.

    HOW TO BUY BABY ARTICHOKES

    Look for firm, thin, compact leaves (called a tight core) that are bright without discoloration. If you squeeze the artichoke and it squeaks, it is fresh!

    Store the, unwashed in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to two weeks.

    Here’s a photo spread on how to prepare artichokes for cooking.
     
    HOW TO SERVE BABY ARTICHOKES

    Baby artichokes are easy to prepare. They may be baked, boiled, braised, marinated, poached, roasted or steamed. When slow-cooked, artichokes become tender and more flavorful, absorb the flavors with which they are cooked. [Source]

    Artichokes pair well with both fatty and high acid ingredients: anchovies, bacon, basil, butter, cheese (especially goat and feta), cream, garlic, lemon, hollandaise, mushrooms, pepper, sausage, thyme, tomatoes, vinaigrette, white wine and truffles.

    You can find many recipes online, but here are two thoughts:

  • Appetizer: Simmer in olive oil, then fry at until ther leaves open. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and serve.
  • Main: Slice in half and braise the artichokes in olive oil, white wine, garlic and herbs. Serve them with risotto.
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    purple-artichoke-friedasFB-230r

    A purple globe artichoke. The variety is called “Sangria.” Photo courtesy Frieda’s.

     

    A BRIEF ARTICHOKE HISTORY

    Artichokes were first cultivated in the Mediterranean region thousands of years ago in Maghreb, the region of North Africa west of Egypt, where they still growing wild. They spread through the Mediterranean region.

    The Greek philosopher and naturalist Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.E.) wrote of artichokes being grown in Italy and Sicily.

    The Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 C.E.), a surgeon with the Roman army of Emperor Nero, wrote about artichokes at the time of Christ.

    Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. In the ensuing centuries, they were grown in France and other areas of Europe.

    In America, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contains a 17th-century recipe entitled “To Make Hartichoak Pie.” In the early 1800s, French immigrants settling in the Louisiana Territory planted artichokes.

     

    In 1922 Andrew Molera, a landowner in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County, California, lease land to Italian immigrant farmers and encouraged them to grow the “new” vegetable, as artichokes were fetching high prices. [Source]

    Fiesole artichokes are named for the city of Fiesole, Italy, an ancient Etruscan town located in the hills above Florence. They were initially bred from the Violetta de Provence artichoke, a purple variety native to southern France.

    As for its botanical name, Cynara scolymus: The genus name comes from the Greek kynara, artichoke. Scolymus derives from the Greek word for thistle.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Leftover Grains As A Soup Garnish

    When we have leftover cooked grains—barley, bulgur, kasha, quinoa, rice, etc.—we start using them the next morning in breakfast omelets. By the time lunch comes, we’re ready to make grain salad.

    If we don’t have enough for a salad, we add the grains to soup. They can make quite a handsome garnish, and most grains go with any type of soup.

    In the photo, Brazilian steakhouse chain Texas de Brazil topped a mound of rice with a shrimp garnish.

    But you can use the grain plain, with a simple sprinkling of green herbs or something equally colorful (halved cherry tomato, sliced jalapeño or bell pepper).

    Or, take the occasion to use up leftover proteins to top the grain: bacon, fish, seafood, poultry, steak. It’s a great way to repurpose small bits of leftovers you can’t do much else with.

    Vegetarians can substitute a cube of grilled tofu, a cherry tomato, olive or leftover steamed vegetables.

    And, you can use leftover beans and pulses (chickpeas, lentils, peas) instead of the grains.

    Whatever you choose, a sprig of green—shredded basil (called chiffonade) or a small basil leaf, rosemary or parsley sprig, cilantro, chives, chopped green onions (scallions) or microgreens–is the final crown on what started out as a conventional bowl of soup.

     

    lobster-bisque-rice-garnish-texasdebrazil-230

    Turn rice into a base for even more garnishes. First mound the grain in the center of the bowl, then carefully pour the soup around it. Photo courtesy Texas de Brazil.

     
    It’s a nice change from croutons.

    Here are 20+ more ways to garnish soup.

      

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