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Artichoke Heart Salad with avocado, olives, fresh spinach, feta and other good veggies. MMMMMMMmmmmmm!

I ♥ Artichoke Hearts.

I remember when I was a kid that someone (probably my big bro – it’s the kind of thing a big brother would tell a little sister) told me I would die if I ate them because I would choke to death and that’s why artichokes are called art-i-CHOKES.  Apparently that is not the case and the name is actually a latin derivative (though the hairy little bits inside the very heart of the heart that we sometimes refer to as the “choke” will make you gag and cough if you eat them because they are actually tiny thistle thorns).  I could send you to good ol’ Wiki, but I found this other cool site that talks about the history of this glorious thistle from ancient Greek tales of metamorphoses, to Catherine de Medici (whom the Italians love to argue actually taught the French about haute cuisine – but that’s another post for another day), to the modern mafia. Check it out here.

The artichoke is actually the flower of a thistle plant (it’s very hardy and one of the very few plants around here that the damn deer won’t eat for those who garden). Artichokes have to be washed very well (soak in a sink of cold water with lemon juice so the bugs will crawl out) and are best cooked by boiling in a pot of water that has been salted and has lemon juice in it too.  The bottom of the leaves (more accurately, petals) is the edible part – you just scrape off the fleshy bits with your teeth and leave the heavy, fibrous “leaf” behind. And once you get through all the layers of leaves, you get to the heart which is soft and tender and quite sweet. Scoop out the “choke” and enjoy!

The artichoke hearts that you buy, either pre-marinated (ugh) or just packed in water, are actually little baby artichokes. The leaves have not gotten tough and fibrous yet and the choke is pretty much non-existent.  So you can eat the whole thing (once cooked of course).

Today I will share with you three recipes:

Artichoke Dip: Mix 1/4 c. each of mayo and plain yogourt with 1 small clove garlic (minced), 2 tbsp. olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, s & p.  Dip your artichoke petals and heart to your heart’s content. Caution: dangerously addictive and not good for the waistline!

Marinated Artichoke Hearts: I can’t stand the kind you buy in the jar.  They are really heavy on the oil and stale dried Italian spice mix. Yuck. I make my own (though I confess to inventing this recipe after eating marinated artichoke hearts at the Tapa Bar because I loved them so much).  Use canned artichoke hearts (plain packed in water – NOT marinated). Drain. Chop into quarters. Make dressing by combining 1 tbsp. toasted cumin seeds (roughly ground in mortar and pestle), 2 tbsp. olive oil, juice of one large lemon, 1 small clove garlic (crushed), s&p to taste. Mix it all up and let sit for a couple hours.  See picture of salad, above, for best application (I like to use some of the marinade as my salad dressing).  Or you can just eat them plain.  Delish and reasonably healthy.

And, finally, the Bad Boy. Sauteed Lamb Chops with Artichoke Hearts. I found me this recipe in the 1988 edition of The Best of Gourmet, Volume III. I have made it with lamb chops and chicken, and I’m quite certain it would be equally delicious with duck (that’s for Della and Eva).  I didn’t make it for today as I made the marinated artichokes instead, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share.  It’s really easy but looks fancy so you can make it for a dinner party and impress people.  It only serves 2 so be prepared to multiply ingredients listed as necessary:

four 3/4-inch-thick loin lamb chops

flour for dredging

1 1/2 tsp olive oil

1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp minced shallot

1/4 c. dry white wine

1/4 c. canned [or homemade if you have it] chicken broth

1/4 c. heavy cream

a 6-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts [I use plain canned ones – see my aforementioned distaste above] drained and chopped.

1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley leaves [or applying my usual heavy hand, a smallish handful]

Pat the chops dry, season them with sale and pepper, and dredge them in the flour, shaking off the excess. In a heavy skillet heat the oil and the butter over moderately high heat until the fat is hot but not smoking and in the fat sauté the chops, turning them once, for 5 to 6 minutes for medium-rare meat. Transfer the chops with a slotted spatula to an overnproof platter and keep them warm in a preheated 250° F. oven.  Pour the fat from the skillet, add the shallot, and cook it over moderately low heat, stirring, until it is softened.  Add the wine, deglaze the skillet, scraping up the brown bits, and boil the wine until it is almost evaporated.  Add the broth and boil the liquid until it is almost evaporated. Add the cream and any juices that have accumulated on the platter and boil the mixture until it is reduced by about a third. Add the artichoke hearts, the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste, cook the sauce, swirling the skillet, until it begins to thicken, and spoon it over the chops.  Serves 2.