THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods
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TIP OF THE DAY: Asparagus Season Tips, Tricks & Recipes

Our favorite harbinger of spring has landed in the market. There are numerous spring fruits and vegetables that are eagerly awaited by food enthusiasts; but our favorite is asparagus.

Fresh-harvested domestic asparagus is as flavorful and affordable as it gets.

Bonus: asparagus has just three calories per medium spear, and contains no fat or cholesterol.

It’s also nutritious:

  • A good source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6 and zinc.
  • A very good source of copper, dietary fiber, folate, iron, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, protein, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) and vitamin K.
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    The season runs through June, so dig in.

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF ASPARAGUS

    Asparagus officinalis was first cultivated more than 5,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region. The oldest reference shows the spring vegetable on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 B.C.E.

  • The ancient Greeks and Romans prized asparagus for its flavor, texture and alleged medicinal qualities. They liked asparagus so much that they dried it to enjoy after the short asparagus season ended.
  • The oldest surviving cookbook, De Re Coquinaria by Apicius, believed to be from the late 4th century C.E., has a recipe for cooking asparagus.
  • The vegetable gained popularity in France and England in the 16th Century. King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) enjoyed asparagus so much that he had special greenhouses built to supply it year-round.
  • No doubt Louis enjoyed it with with hollandaise sauce, a rich sauce made from butter and eggs. The first known recipe for hollandaise was published in 1651, in a cookbook by the great French chef François Pierre de La Varenne (1618-1678). The recipe was for Asparagus in Fragrant Sauce (his original name for hollandaise).
  • Early colonists brought the plant to America.
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    Asparagus is a perennial plant, raised in furrowed fields. It takes about three years before the plants produce spears that can be harvested. The spears are cut by hand when they reach about 9 inches in length.

    The delicate asparagus plant needs a temperate climate and requires much hand labor in all phases of cultivation; hence, their higher cost.

    White Asparagus, Purple Asparagus

    White asparagus is a special treatment of conventional asparagus, grown for its color.

    The spears must be grown underground or in the dark without exposure to sunlight, which would engender photosynthesis and the development of green chlorophyll. The growing technique was developed in France in the mid-1600s.

    If you come across fresh white asparagus and want to see if the extra cost is worth it, steam them with a bit of salt and taste their nuances before adding butter or another ingredient. You may or may not find a difference worth the money. Never buy bland, canned white asparagus.

    Here’s more about white asparagus as well as purple asparagus, a breed that is larger, sweeter and tastier than the conventional green types of asparagus.

    Purple asparagus was originally developed in Italy by farmers in the Albenga region of the Italian Riviera. It was first commercialized under the variety name Violetto d’Albenga.

    Purple asparagus retains its color if cooked briefly (blanching, quick sauteing), but reverts ti green with prolonged cooking.

    ASPARAGUS PURCHASE & PREPARATION

    Buying Asparagus

    Look for firm stalks of a uniform width and a minimum amount of woodiness at the end. It doesn’t matter if they’re thick or slender: both are equally tender. But you need uniformity of size to cook them evenly.

    The tips should be tightly closed. Once they begin to separate, it means that the asparagus is older and won’t have the best fresh flavor. If your tips have begin to wilt, soak the spears in an ice bath before cooking.

    Vegetables wilt when they dry out. You can restore the moisture with an ice bath: Fill a bowl with water with ice cubes. Add the vegetables (cut as you plan to use them) and let them sit for 15 minutes or longer. Remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and drain on a cloth or paper towel and they’ll be crisp.

    Preparing Asparagus

    Asparagus can be boiled, grilled, roasted, steamed, tossed into soups and stews, and eaten raw as crudités.

    Most cooking instructions tell you to hold a spear of asparagus in both hands and bend until it snaps at its natural break point (which is 1-2 inches above the base). That produces rough, uneven bottoms.

    We simply trim them with a knife as far as the green portion goes.

    Other instructions tell you to peel the surface of the bottom quarter if they are woody. We don’t have this problem, even with the thickest asparagus. But if you’ve trimmed the white bottoms and still are concerned about woodiness, here are two options:

  • Slice a 1/4″ piece from the bottom and chew it. You’ll know for sure if it will cook nicely.
  • Trim that extra inch or so, keep the trimmings and use them in a scramble or other recipe.
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    Asparagus Scramble

    Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus

    Asparagus Burrata Salad

    Ham & Asparagus Rolls With Blue Cheese

    Asparagus Crostini

    [1] Asparagus Scramble (here’s the recipe from California Asparagus Commission). [2] Asparagus-Bacon Bundles (this also works with green beans—here’s the recipe from Food Network). [3] Burrata Salad With Asparagus & Prosciutto at Barbuto | NYC. [4] Ham & Asparagus Rolls With Blue Cheese (here’s the recipe from Castello USA). [5] Asparagus Crostini from Nestle USA | WordPress. Use hummus or bean dip as the base.

     
    Cooking Asparagus

    Boiled Asparagus: Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then gently tip in your prepped asparagus. Boil for 2 minutes or until the asparagus are bright green and al dente. Take them out and lay it in a single layer to cool. Top with chopped hard boiled eggs and herbs for a light lunch, or puree with a little green garlic for a simple pasta sauce.

    Grilled Asparagus: Asparagus will slip through the grill if you don’t use a vegetable basket or skewers. We actually like the skewer technique, which creates a rack of asparagus. Simply skewer four or five medium or thick asparagus together, brush with olive oil, season to taste, and cook on a hot, preheated grill Preheat grill for high heat for 2-3 minutes per side (depending on thickness), or to desired tenderness.

    Before you add the oil, however, use the ice bath technique described above. When the asparagus come off the grill, they’ll be moist and crisp.

    Raw Asparagus: After trimming, use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin below the spear. We like to slice it thinly on an angle to create ovals, to add to salads and grain bowls, but you can also peel it into delicious ribbons. Reserve the tips of the asparagus and mix them in with the rest!

    Roasted Asparagus: Heat the oven to 400°. Toss prepped asparagus on a parchment-lined baking sheet with a glug of olive oil and a large pinch of salt and roast for 5 minutes or so—until crisped at the tips and slightly browned.

    Steamed Asparagus: Simply steamed fresh asparagus at peak flavor is so delicious, we find it needs no embellishment—no salt, balsamic drizzle, butter, lemon juice or other seasoning beyond a pinch of salt. It requires just a quick visit to the vegetable steamer (or microwave) to be ready to eat. (Note: While some people love it, we think that a vertical asparagus steamer is a waste of space.)

    But if you do have a bottle of balsamic glaze or balsamic cream, bring it out!

     

    Grilled Rack Of Asparagus

    Linguine With Prosciutto  & Asparagus

    [6] Grilled Rack Of Asparagus (here’s the recipe from the California Asparagus Commission). [7] Linguine With Asparagus and Parma Ham (here’s the recipe from Il Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma).

     

    ASPARAGUS RECIPES

    Enjoy asparagus every meal of the day!
     
    Breakfast & Brunch

  • Asparagus Frittata With Red Bell Peppers
  • Asparagus Scramble With Herbed Cream Cheese & Tomatoes
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    Lunch

  • Asparagus Pizza
  • Asparagus Spring Rolls With Sweet Red Chili Dipping Sauce
  • Fresh Asparagus & Smoked Salmon Sandwich
  • Thai Grilled Lamb & Asparagus Salad
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    Dinner

  • Asparagus & Shrimp Risotto
  • Green Lasagna With Asparagus & Pesto
  • Linguine, Asparagus & Parma Ham (Prosciutto)
  • Linguine In Clam Sauce With Asparagus
  • Morels With Scallops & Asparagus
  • Warm Salad Of Asparagus Spears & Seared Lamb Chops With Fresh Mint Vinaigrette
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    First Courses & Sides

  • Asparagus & Grapefruit Saute
  • Asparagus & Prosciutto Wraps
  • Grilled Asparagus & Mushroom Salad With Shaved Parmesan
  • Grilled Rack Of Asparagus
  • Radish & Asparagus Salad With Blood Orange Vinaigrette
  • Sweet & Spicy Szechuan Asparagus
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    TIP OF THE DAY: DIY Wedge Salad Bar & Different Types Of Lettuce

    Back in the 1950s and 1960s, restaurant menus offered hearts of lettuce salad with creamy dressings. The head was cut into quarters and plated with a slice of tomato for color.

    Homemakers were fans, too.

  • The iceberg heads were sold fully trimmed, with little waste.
  • It was easy to cut into wedges or slice into shreds.
  • Although some people tore it into pieces, “The Joy Of Cooking” admonished: “Heads of iceberg lettuce are not separated. They are cut into wedge-shaped pieces, or into crosswise slices.”
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    The lettuce’s crunch was very popular, if bland-tasting (solution: lots of dressing!). The heads kept longer in the fridge, so there was no wilted waste.

    Even James Beard was a fan, recommending the crisp texture mixed with other greens.

    Then came the California cuisine movement, introducing us to better varieties to eat. Iceberg was mocked for lacking flavor.

    Instead, foodies filled their shopping carts with romaine plus arugula and radicchio.

    Yet, hardy, crunchy iceberg still accounts for 70% of the lettuces raised in California (down from 80% in the mid-1970s, however). It’s still popular in foodservice (commercial, institutional), at salad bars and casual restaurants.

    And thanks to the retro food movement of the past decade, iceberg has returned to restaurant menus beyond the steakhouse, in the hearts of lettuce salad now known by a trendier name: wedge salad.

    Let the wedge salad add fun and crunch to your meals. If you have a daily dinner salad, feature the wedge once a week. Turn it into a DIY salad buffet for family and guests. An ingredients list is below.

    WEDGE SALAD HISTORY

    The crisphead (iceberg) lettuce variety is relatively new in the history of lettuce cultivation (see the different categories of lettuce, below).

    Crisphead lettuce was a mutation: A grower discovered a different-looking, sweeter-tasting head of lettuce in his field.

    Liking its flavor and superior crispness, he teamed with other growers to breed it to be even better. Thus was born what we today call iceberg lettuce.

    The new variety became a top seller, and remains so. It was called crisphead, its given varietal name, until the 1920s. It subsequently acquired the name iceberg because of its ability to be transported for long distances when packed on ice.

    Before the iceberg named settled in, it was also called cabbage lettuce, for its resemblance to cabbage. In 1894, a Burpee seed catalog exclaimed, “There is no handsomer or more solid Cabbage Lettuce in cultivation.”

    Numerous varieties of crisphead were developed, including varieties with reddish leaves tinged with green and varieties with scalloped edges. While they did not enter the mass market, you can still buy the seeds from specialty sellers.

    Now about the wedge salad:

    Period cookbooks, newspapers and culinary reference books date the popularity of iceberg lettuce salads to the 1920s.

    But the general consensus is that the wedge salad with creamy dressing became a ubiquitous menu entry in the 1950s. [source]

    Who served the first “hearts of lettuce salad,” as it was then called?

    Likely it was a steak house, given the popularity of that type of restaurant in the 1950s and the [still] ubiquitous presence on those menus. But as with so many things, we can only give credit to “an unknown cook.”

       

    Wedge Salad

    Wedge Salad

    Iceberg Lettuce

    [1] A California Wedge Salad with avocado, prosciutto crumbles and ranch dressing (here’s the recipe from Little Broken). [2] A BLT Wedge Salad from Applegate also has avocado and bacon with ranch dressing (here’s the recipe). Note that these are two different recipe names with the same ingredients. [3] The ubiquitous head of iceberg lettuce: Just quarter it for your wedge salad (photo Good Housekeeping).

     

    Boston Lettuce

    Red Leaf Lettuce

    Romaine

    [4] Boston lettuce, a variety of butterhead. [5] Red leaf lettuce, a variety of leaf lettuce. [6] Romaine lettuce (photos courtesy Good Housekeeping).

     

    DIY WEDGE SALAD BAR

    At THE NIBBLE, we’ve added a lot to the simple wedge salad. Call it a DIY, customized or signature wedge salad, it’s a fun munch.

    The Must Haves

  • Iceberg lettuce wedges
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Creamy dressings: blue cheese, thousand island/Russian, ranch
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    Nice Additions

  • Avocado
  • Bacon, any type (the different types of bacon)
  • Cheeses: crumbled blue cheese or feta, shaved parmesan
  • Croutons
  • Veggies: peppadews or pimentos, red onion or scallions
  • Watercress
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    For A Main Dish

  • Hard boiled egg halves (the quarters tend to fall apart)
  • Ham or turkey, julienned or cubed
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    Garnishes

  • Fried Chinese noodles
  • Frizzled onions
  • Fresh herbs (basil, chives, dill, tarragon)
  • Nuts and seeds: candied walnuts, pepitas, spiced pecans, salted peanuts, any toasted nuts
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    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF LETTUCE

    There four basic types: butterhead, iceberg, leaf, and romaine, along with hundreds of hybrids bred from them.

    Iceberg Lettuce: Also known as crisped lettuce, this is the crispest and hardiest of lettuces varieties. It lasts twice as long in the fridge as long as most other varieties. The downside: It’s not as flavorful or nutritious as other lettuces.

     

    Butterhead Lettuce: Comprising Boston and Bibb Lettuces, these are small, loosely formed heads of soft, supple leaves. Boston is a larger and fluffier head than Bibb; Bibb is the size of a fist, and sweeter than Boston. Both are excellent for lettuce cups. The down side: They’re highly perishable and bruise easily; and are pricier than iceberg and romaine.

    Leaf Lettuce: This category does not form a head; the leaves branch up from a single stalk. The leaves are very tender and are often seen in baby lettuce blends. The burgundy tint of red leaf lettuce and the spicier, nuttier oak leaf lettuce adds charming color to a mixed green salad. The downside: Leaf lettuces are more perishable than head lettuces and wilt easily.

    Romaine Lettuce: Second in crunchiness to iceberg lettuce, romaine is a stalk lettuce like leaf lettuce, with a pleasant bitterness. The crunchy center ribs make the leaves sturdy; and when the outer leaves are trimmed, the smaller ones (sold as hearts of romaine) can be used as “boats” to hold protein salads (egg, chicken, tuna, etc.).

      

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    PRODUCTS: 5 New Specialty Food Favorites

    Every week new products arrive at THE NIBBLE. Most are good if not noteworthy. Some are so good that they become part of our personal shopping list.

    In alphabetical order, here are five favorites of the last few weeks:

    1. CAVA GRILL MEDITERRAEAN DIPS & SPREADS

    Cava Grill, a casual Mediterranean restaurant chain with locations on the East Coast an California, is now selling a dozen of its popular dips and spreads. You can find them at Whole Foods Markets and other specialty markets (here’s a store locator).

    Choose from:

  • Dips/Spreads: Crazy Feta, Eggplant & Roast Pepper, Harissa, Tzatziki.
  • Hummus Flavors: Greek Yogurt, Kalamata, Roasted Garlic, Roasted Red Pepper, Spicy, Traditional.
  • Organic Flavors: Organic Caramelized Onion Hummus, Organic Traditional.
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    One of our favorite light dinners is to serve as many varieties as we want with fresh pita, accompanied by a lettuce salad with bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, red onion, vinaigrette and chopped fresh herbs; capers and olives optional.

    Or, uncork some wine and invite friends and neighbors for a wine break.

    See the whole line at Cava.com.
     
     
    2. LACTAID MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP ICE CREAM

    Ice cream is one of our favorite foods, and every day we bless Lactaid for an excellent (and well-priced) line. Every flavor is a winner.

    We recently had our first quart of Lactaid Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, and it’s the best supermarket mint chocolate chip ice cream we can recommend: truly refreshing, with lively mint flavor and toothsome chunks of chocolate.

    You don’t have to have lactose sensitivity to enjoy Lactaid dairy products. The cottage cheese, ice cream and milk taste just like any other quality products. (Lactaid dudes: We need cream cheese and sour cream, too.)

    The only difference is that a minute amount of lactase, the natural enzyme that helps people digest milk products—is added. You can taste it; no one would know the difference.

    Check out the other Lactaid ice cream flavors. Salted Caramel Chip is another must-try.

     
     
    3. NESTLÉ DAMAK CHOCOLATE BARS WITH PISTACHIOS

    The Damak brand of chocolate was established in Turkey in 1933. Turkey is the world’s third largest producer of pistachio nuts (after Iran and the U.S.), and the bars, in milk or dark chocolate, are packed with the nutritious little nuggets.

    The 2.82-ounce square-ish bars are something not readily available in the U.S.: pistachio chocolate bars at the suggested retail price of $2.49. The name, pronounced DUH-mok, is Turkish for “taste.”

    Nestlé, which now owns the brand, has committed a million dollars to teach Turkish pistachio farmers more effective agricultural techniques to improve and increase harvests.

    See more at NestleDamak.com.
     
     
    4. NOOSA YOGHURT

    Noosa has been one of our favorite yogurt lines since it first popped up in the U.S. via Australia, where yogurt is spelled with an “h” (see our review).

    Each new flavor the brand introduces is better than the last (although the Mexican Chocolate Yoghurt has yet to be topped on our personal list).

    New flavors this season:

  • Orange Ginger
  • Pear Cardamom
  • Strawberry Hibiscus
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    Cava Grill Dips & Spreads

    Lactaid Mint Chocolate Chip

    Nestle Damak Pistachio Chocolate Bars

    Nonni's Limoncello Pistachio Biscotti

    Noosa Orange Ginger Yoghurt

    [1] Cava Grill Mediterranean Dips (photo Cava). [2] Nestle Damak pistachio chocolate bars (photo Nestle). [3] Lactaid Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (photo Lactaid). [4] Nonni’s Limoncello Pistachio Biscotti (photo Nonni’s Foods). [5] Orange-Ginger, one of three new Noosa Yoghurt flavors (photo Noosa).

     
    But every flavor hits the spot, and all are delicious enough to be served as a creamy dessert as well as breakfast, lunch and snack fare. See them all at NoosaYoghurt.com.
     
     
    5. NONNI’S BISCOTTI

    Nonni’s, the nation’s leading biscotti baker, salutes spring with two new limited-batch flavors.

  • Nonni’s White Chocolate Cherry Biscotti are filled with cherries and white chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate icing.
  • Nonni’s Limoncello Pistachio Biscotti are made with chopped pistachios and lemon peel zest, then dipped and drizzled inwhite chocolate.
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    The biscotti are a softer style that are easy on the teeth, and are individually wrapped for grab-and-go.

    Check out the entire line at Nonnis.com.

      

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    RECIPE: Ravioli Lasagna For National Ravioli Day

    Ravioli Lasagna

    Pumpkin Ravioli Lasagna

    Ravioli Lasagna

    Ravioli Lasagna

    [1] Beef and sausage ravioli lasagna. [2] Pumpkin ravioli lasagna (both photos courtesy Taste Of Home). [3] An even ravioli top (photo courtesy Oxmoor House). [4] Adding the layer of frozen ravioli (photo courtesy Design Mom).

     

    March 20th is National Ravioli Day.

    We like ravioli in any form, but have been especially delighted with ravioli lasagna.

    Bless the person who first thought of the trick of using cooked ravioli instead of lasagna noodles. (Alternatively, you can use penne or other tube pasta, but ravioli supplies added filling.)

    What looks like a complicated recipe couldn’t be easier when you use frozen ravioli (no cooking required) and store-bought pasta sauce.

    Prep time is 25 minutes, bake time is 40 minutes.
     
    RECIPE: RAVIOLI LASAGNA

    We adapted this recipe from one by Patricia Smith for Taste Of Home.

    The recipe uses sausage or cheese ravioli and adds ground beef. But you can make vegetable ravioli, chicken ravioli, or anything you prefer. Here’s another Taste Of Home recipe for (here’s the Pumpkin Ravioli Lasagna (scroll down).

    You can vary the recipe any way you like. For example:

  • Substitute ground chicken, turkey or textured vegetable protein (TVP) for the beef.
  • Add veggies via two layers of frozen, thawed spinach or kale (pressed dry), frozen peas or medley.
  • Substitute Alfredo sauce (cream sauce) for the tomato-based sauce.
  • Substitute vegetable ravioli for the meat or cheese versions.
  • We’ve even use ratatouille as the sauce, when we’ve made a large batch (pulse it into a chunky vegetable sauce.
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    Ingredients For 6-8 Servings

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 jar (28 ounces) spaghetti sauce
  • 1 package (25 ounces) frozen sausage or cheese ravioli
  • 1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Dried herbs/spices: (chili flakes, garlic chips, oregano)
  • Optional garnish: minced fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme)
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    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Cook the beef over medium heat in a large skillet, until it is no longer pink. Drain.

    2. LAYER in a greased 2-1/2-quart baking dish: 1/3 of the spaghetti sauce, 1/2 of the ravioli, 1/2 of the cooked beef, and 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat the layers. Top with the remaining sauce and cheese.

    3. COVER and bake for 40-45 minutes or until heated through.
     
     
    THE HISTORY OF RAVIOLI

    China gets the credit for inventing not only strand pasta—thin chow mein noodles like Italian angel hair, chow fun noodles like Italian linguine, chow fun noodles like Italian pappardelle, and stuffed wontons like Italian ravioli.

     
    When it arrived Italy, stuffed pasta (another name for the category is pillow pasta) was served with Italian-style pasta sauces.

    Some food historians believe the name “ravioli” derives from the old Italian word riavvolgere, to wrap.

    Others believe that the dish was named after a renowned 13th-century chef named Ravioli, who lived in the Republica di Genova (a.k.a. Genoa, today the Italian region of Liguria).

    The record on him is scant, but according to DeLallo Authentic Italian Foods, Chef Ravioli is credited with the invention of the stuffed pasta composed of two layers of thin pasta dough with a filling sealed between them.

    Interestingly, the Venetian Marco Polo, who brought the concept of stuffed pasta back from China, had subsequently become a soldier in Venice’s war with Genova. He was taken prisoner by Genova in 1296 and released in 1299, to return to Venice [source].

    We don’t have dates for Chef Ravioli, but might he have heard about the stuffed wontons via someone who heard it from Polo? Given how scant the record is on the chef, we can say with almost-certainty that we’ll never know!

    Here’s much more on the history of ravioli.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Spring Artichokes, Steamed Whole

    March 16th is National Artichoke Hearts Day, but today, the first day of spring, we take on the whole fresh vegetable, a spring arrival.

    The artichoke is actually a large flower bud. If left in the field, the fuzzy choke in the center becomes the blossom (photo #3), which is supported by the thick, spiny leaves.

    The familiar globes are harvested prior to flowering (photo #4).

    The outer leaves, heart and stem of the artichoke are equally (and similarly) tasty. The toughest outer leaves and the choke (the light, fibrous section on top of the heart) are discarded.

    RECIPE: STEAMED ARTICHOKES

    Artichokes can be braised, fried, grilled, roasted or stewed; but to cook a whole artichoke, the technique is to steam.

    The process is actually very easy. All you need is a large pot and a steaming tray. Serve them as a first course, hot or cold, with your choice of dipping sauce.

    Our pasta pot fits six large artichokes. We like them large, as you get more to eat with the same amount of effort.

    While many retailers chop the stems off, we look for those with the longest stems. Surprise: The heart grows from the stem, and the stem tastes like the heart. Don’t throw them out: Enjoy them!

    Some people peel the stems first, as they do with asparagus. We find that most do just fine with some extra steaming. As a hedge, you can cut the stems and steam them separately, in case they need some extra time in the pot.

    Finally, artichokes have traditionally been served with the melted butter (with hot artichokes) and aïoli or vinaigrette (hot or cold artichokes), we find that most steamed vegetables are delicious without anything else.

    A large artichoke (162g, 5.7 ounces) has just 76 calories.

    Ingredients

  • Whole artichokes
  • Fresh lemon juice, plus wedges for serving as desired
  • Optional garnish: snipped parsley or other herb to scatter on plate
  • For dipping: aïoli (garlic mayonnaise), melted butter or vinaigrette
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    Preparation

    1. PEEL off some of the tougher outer leaves. While some people undertake a severe removal, we recommend steaming more rather than less. Steam the artichokes until you can easily pull off one of the outer leaves, and taste it. If it’s soft enough to scrape off with your teeth, you get more artichoke!

    2. With a scissors, snip off the thorny ends of the leaves. This is the most time-consuming part of the preparation. (Our colleague Ruth, the consummate crafter, uses pinking shears.) With a sharp knife, cut the off top center of the globe—the small, thorny leaves that are inside the large ones.

    3. CLEAN by placing the globes upside-down in a large bowl of water with the lemon juice (to prevent browning until you’re ready to cook them). Parsley stems also prevent artichokes from browning (another reason to save those stems in the freezer). You do this part in advance. When ready to steam…

    4. FILL the pot with water up to the bottom of the steamer basket, and add a tablespoon of salt. Place the artichokes in stem side up. This enables the steam to get into the interior leaves, and allows you to test for doneness.

    5. COVER the pot and bring to a boil. Steam until until the heart (the bottom of the artichoke where it connects to the stem) is tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife, and inner leaves pull out easily, 25 to 35 minutes. Check in the latter half of steaming and add more water to pot as necessary.

    6. SERVE hot or cold with a ramekin of melted butter or vinaigrette and a lemon wedge. Garnish with fresh herbs as desired.

    If the bottoms of the globe are level (i.e., no protruding stem), you can stand them up on a plate for presentation. Otherwise, present them on their side.

    A BRIEF ARTICHOKE HISTORY

    Artichokes are members of the thistle family native to the Mediterranean region, that are cultivated as food.

    They were bred from their lesser-known cousin, the cardoon (photo #5). The familiar globe artichoke, Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus, is a variation of Cynara cardunculus, the cardoon.

    Cynara is a genus of thistle-like perennial plants in the sunflower family. Cardoons are long, edible stalks that are similar in flavor to the artichoke stalks. The tops and flowers are also very similar. The difference is that the artichoke has an edible heart within the leaves on top.

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

     

    Fresh Artichokes

    Steamed Artichoke

    Artichoke Flower

    Sangria Artichoke

    Cardoons

    [1] Fresh artichokes from California, cut up for a recipe (photo courtesy Good Eggs). [2] Steamed whole and served with aïoli (here’s the recipe from Fine Cooking). [3] In the field, artichokes grow on long, thick stems (photo courtesy Frieda’s Produce). [4] A flowering artichoke (photo courtesy Sierra Flower Finder). [5] Cardoons, which look like celery (but are no relation), are the predecessor of the globe artichoke. There is no heart; the stem is what’s eaten (photo courtesy Fine Cooking).

     

  • The earliest references to artichokes appear in the 8th century B.C.E. Both Homer and Hesiod, a Greek philosopher and naturalist, wrote of them as cultivated plants.
  • Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.E.), the successor to Aristotle, 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.
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    Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. In the ensuing centuries, they were grown in Italy, France and other areas of Europe.

    They were among the fruits, vegetables and animals brought to the New World by colonists. 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, leased land to Italian immigrant farmers and encouraged them to grow the “new” vegetable, as artichokes were fetching high prices. [Source]

    Artichoke lovers: Give thanks to Mr. Molera for the popularity of artichokes in the U.S.

    MORE ARTICHOKE RECIPES

    Spinach and artichoke dip is one of the most popular dips in the U.S., so it’s surprising that we can’t find information on its origin. If you know it, please let us know.

    Our mom recalls that in the 1950s or 1960s, a recipe appeared on packages of dry soup mix or a sour cream.

  • Ways To Use Artichokes
  • Warm Artichoke Dip With Gorgonzola
  • Artichoke Dip With Sundried Tomatoes
  • Creamy Artichoke Dip With Gorgonzola & Fontina
  • Hot Crab & Artichoke Dip
  • Roast Leg Of Lamb With Stewed Artichokes
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