##By Helen Westwater of ‘La Ola Fresca’
There are some vegetable that are beautiful to look at, but when it comes to preparing them it can seem too much of a lengthy process. The aptly named artichoke is a good example. Arty certainly, but can cause some procrastination or blocks when it comes to preparing them! Really, it’s not as difficult as it seems and once they are prepared you can bottle them in oil so they are ready to use at any given moment…with the added bonus of the artichoke-infused oil.
Artichokes come into season conveniently in January. Suitably for post-Christmas, they are known as liver cleansers with high levels of potassium to help with hangovers and can also lower cholesterol.
So, without more ado here is how to prepare your artichokes.
Prepare a bowl of water with juice of half a lemon squeezed in. Retain the other half to rub the artichoke leaves with, as you go along, to prevent discoloration.
Remove the lower petals, which are small or discoloured. Cut the stems and retain. Cut off top quarter of the tips. If it is a large artichoke, you can then access the furry part inside with a spoon or knife to remove it. Place the prepared artichoke in the lemon water.
Here are a few ideas of how to cook and use your artichokes.
Firstly, with young & more delicate artichokes you can use the inner part, sliced finely, as a carpaccio simply doused with lemon or another delicious option is to grill directly from raw in slices.
Otherwise, I would recommend steaming above an inch or two of boiling water for about 25 to 40 minutes. They are ready when you can remove a petal near the centre easily.
Either eat immediately with utterly buttery hollandaise sauce (well they do lower cholesterol!) or more healthy vegenaise. You can also keep them in olive oil and use for salads or in this case as our topping with caramelized onions and tomate base for the French answer to pizza, ‘Pissaladier.’ This is taken from one of my favourite cook books, ‘The Secret of French Home Cooking’; by Marie-Pierre Moine.
ARTICHOKES AND FRENCH PISSALADIER TART
350g/12oz plain flour
170g/6oz butter, chopped small
4 tbsp cream cheese or crème fraîche
1-1 1/2 oz freshly grated parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g Sautéed tomatoes, reduced so they are fairly dry.
10 Sautéed red onions season with a little thyme
A clove of garlic
8 artichoke hearts cut in half
In a food processor, whizz the flour and butter together with a pinch of salt. Add the cream cheese and season with pepper and whizz again until the dough comes together. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least half an hour.
Pre-heat the oven to 190c/375F gas 5. Oil a large baking sheet.
Roll out the pastry thinly on a floured board and spread on to the baking sheet. Prick with a fork in several places then sprinkle with the Parmesan. Spread the tomato sauce over the prepared dough, followed by the cooked onions. Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, then turn the oven up to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Place the artichoke halves evenly on the pissaladier and bake for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve with a little olive oil and sea salt.