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It's time to feast on artichokes.

LEAF AFTER LEAF, bite after succulent bite, the magnificent thistle--the artichoke--lures you to its inner recesses. Rip away the prickly, pointed, tender leaf crown, scoop out the fuzzy choke, and there, awaiting your pleasure, is the thick, smoky-sweet, meaty bottom.

Observe this ritual now. Artichokes are at peak season, with lowest prices. You might find really big ones for as little as three for $1. And tiny, mature (even though called babies or hearts) artichokes are often a bargain by the bag.

The source for these fleshy, usually thorn-tipped buds is the fog-shrouded coast of central California, from Half Moon Bay, through Santa Cruz and Castroville, to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Spanish explorers get credit for first bringing the artichoke from the Mediterranean basin to the West, where it has made itself perfectly at home.

Boil a batch of artichokes in spicy broth for a fondue feast; trim really big artichokes and bake, stuffed with lamb; or trim tiny artichokes down to total edibility and grill on skewers.

Artichoke Fondue

1/3 cup vinegar

3 tablespoons Worcestershire

2 dried bay leaves

2 tablespoons black peppercorns

2 tablespoons mustard seed

2 tablespoons cumin seed

1 teaspoon crushed dried hot red chilies

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 dozen medium-size (3- to 3 1/2-in.-wide, 8 to 10 oz. each) artichokes

Curry yogurt (recipe follows)

Mustard vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Melted butter (optional)

Mayonnaise (optional)

In a 12- to 14-quart pan, combine 5 quarts water, vinegar, Worcestershire, bay leaves, peppercorns, mustard seed, cumin seed, chilies, and oil. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, remove coarse outer leaves from artichokes. Trim stems even with bases. With a sharp knife, cut off thorny top third of each artichoke. With scissors, trim thorny tips off remaining leaves. Immerse artichokes in cool water and swish to rinse; shake out water.

Plunge artichokes into boiling liquid. Reduce heat, cover, and boil gently until bottoms are tender when pierced, 25 to 35 minutes.

Lift out artichokes and drain. Pour liquid through a fine strainer; reserve seeds for curry yogurt. Discard bay. (If making ahead, cool, cover, and chill artichokes and seeds up to 1 day.)

Serve the artichokes hot, cool, or cold. Offer curry yogurt, mustard vinaigrette, butter, and mayonnaise in individual bowls. Dip artichoke leaves and pieces of the bottom into sauces to eat. Serves 4 as a main course, 12 as a vegetable accompaniment or appetizer.

Per entree serving without sauces: 146 cal. (13 percent from fat); 9 g protein; 2.1 g fat (0.3 g sat.); 29 g carbo.; 277 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Curry yogurt. Mix 3/4 cup unflavored nonfat yogurt, 3/4 cup reduced-calorie or regular mayonnaise, the reserved seed mixture from cooked artichokes (preceding), 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder, and salt to taste. (If making ahead, cover and chill up to 2 days.) Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Per tablespoon: 32 cal. (58 percent from fat); 0.8 g protein; 2.4 g fat (0.5 g sat.); 2 g carbo.; 47 mg sodium; 2.6 mg chol.

Mustard vinaigrette. Whisk together 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup water, 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons minced shallots, 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves, and 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced. (If making ahead, cover and chill up to 1 day.) Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Per tablespoon: 35 cal. (95 percent from fat); 0 g protein; 3.7 g fat (0.5 g sat.); 0.5 g carbo.; 45 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Baked Artichoke Bottoms with Lamb

1 1/3 cups dry white wine

1 1/3 cups regular-strength chicken broth

4 large (3 1/2- to 4-in.-wide, about 1 lb. each) artichokes

1 pound ground lean lamb

1/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs

1 large egg

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh or 1 tablespoon dried mint leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons chopped parsley (if using dried mint)

In a 9- by 13-inch pan, combine wine and broth.

Trim stems flush with artichoke bottoms. About 2 inches above base, cut each artichoke crosswise to remove leaf tops. With scissors, trim remaining thorny tips. Immerse artichokes in cool water and swish to rinse; shake out water.

Coat artichoke bottoms with wine mixture in pan, then set artichokes, bases up, in pan; cover tightly. Bake in a 350|degrees~ oven until bases are barely tender when pierced, about 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix lamb, crumbs, 1/3 cup water, egg, onion, garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried mint, salt, and pepper.

With a slotted spoon, lift artichokes from dish. Turn artichokes with leaves up; pull out and discard tiny thorn-tipped leaves in centers. With a small spoon, scoop and discard fuzzy centers from artichokes.

Mound meat mixture firmly into centers and over tops of artichokes. Bake, uncovered, in a 350|degrees~ oven until meat is well browned and firm to touch, about 45 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer artichokes to a platter; keep warm.

Measure pan juices. If needed, add water to make 1 cup; or boil, uncovered, to reduce to 1 cup. Stir cornstarch mixture into liquid in pan. Stir over high heat until boiling; mix in remaining fresh mint (or parsley). Pour sauce over artichokes. Serves 4.

Per serving: 484 cal. (54 percent from fat); 28 g protein; 29 g fat (12 g sat.); 30 g carbo.; 322 mg sodium; 136 mg chol.

Grilled Artichoke Kebabs

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon minced fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

18 small (1 1/2- to 2-in.-wide, about 2 1/4 lb. total) artichokes

Salt and pepper

In a bowl, combine lemon juice, oil, thyme, and 2 tablespoons water.

Trim stems flush with artichoke bottoms. Break off leaves down to pale, tender ones. Cut off the top 1/3 to 1/2 of each artichoke to remove thorny tips. With a small, sharp knife, smoothly trim fibrous portions from bottoms. If trimmed artichokes are wider than 1 1/2 inches, cut in half lengthwise. As trimmed, coat in lemon marinade. Thread hearts onto metal flat-blade skewers; reserve remaining marinade.

Place artichokes on a grill 4 to 6 inches above solid bed of medium-hot coals (you can hold your hand at grill level only 3 to 4 seconds). Turn often until artichoke bottoms are tender when pierced, and artichokes are lightly browned all over, 12 to 15 minutes. Place skewered artichokes on a platter; drizzle with remaining marinade. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4 to 6.

Per serving: 73 cal. (57 percent from fat); 2.3 g protein; 4.6 g fat (0.6 g sat.); 7.5 g carbo.; 65 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.
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Title Annotation:recipes
Author:Anusasananan, Linda Lau
Date:May 1, 1993
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