Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Grow It, Cook, It Eat It – Artichokes

In spite of being one of the oldest of cultivated vegetables, it's always seemed to me that it's more popular with eaters than gardeners. Consequently so many people miss out on this health giving and unusually delicious member of the thistle family.

It was highly prized in ancient Rome and in those days was one of the most expensive of vegetables to buy. It does need a fair amount of space and in the days of Henry VIII was more likely to be found in the gardens and kitchens of the wealthy here in Britain.

Not so throughout southern Europe where this amazing plant is also valued for its medicinal properties. It contains a unique chemical called cynarin which is a specific and powerful liver stimulant. Eating these artichokes also stimulates the release of bile into the stomach and makes it much easier for the digestive system to deal with all types of fats. It's no coincidence that French housewives would traditionally serve artichokes at the start of a meal which promised to be a test of her guests’ liver function. They also contain a unique fibre called inulin, this occurs in Jerusalem artichokes too, which makes a valuable prebiotic food for the friendly bugs that live in the gut – all 2 kg of them.

Globe artichokes are best grown from crowns and they can exceed 4 feet in height and easily spread to 3ft 6 in. They’re pretty hardy but if you’re in the north of England on heavy soil they’ll need protecting during the winter with a suitable mulch. They’ll thrive best with plenty of animal manure and compost and should be planted 4 feet apart, in rows 4 feet apart.

Growing from seed can be very hit and miss but do keep a careful note of which of your crowns is the most productive in its first season. The following spring, using a spade slice off 3 or 4 shoots with a bit of root and use these in bundles to make a second row of plants. Only take these 'offsets' from the heaviest producers. Each year you can plant a few new ones and get rid of the least productive. You can leave some heads to grow large, use the early and late ones as babies.

You’ll never taste anything like the artichoke you cut, cook and eat as they deteriorate extremely quickly. A couple of plants look great in a flower bed and they work well grown against a fence or wall, as long as it gets plenty of sun. In late autumn remove all dead leaves and stems and cut back to about 1ft 6in. Both green and purple varieties are available. The purple may look more striking but the green ones are much less prickly.


To get rid of any dirt and insects between the leaves, always soak artichokes in salted water for at least 30 minutes then wash and rinse well before cooking.

Pasta With Baby Artichokes

Serves 2
I first had a dish like this when I was working in Rome with my co-author of Superfoods, Barbara Griggs. My immediate reaction was to say that you could only eat artichokes boiled and steeped in butter. How wrong I was! We now grow artichokes in our garden and this recipe is a delight; cut off the young ones early in the season and save their old relatives until they mature later in the year. Eating this fabulously healthy and simple dish always reminds me of springtime in Rome and having to ask Barbara what on earth all the farmers wives were doing selling these strange baby vegetables on every street corner of the city. Now it's your turn.

8 baby artichokes (if they're no bigger than a Victoria plum - 4 if they are)
Juice of half a lemon
Half a tsp white wine vinegar
3 rashers lean bacon, cut into fine slices
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
175g/6oz flat pasta - pappardelle or linguine
50g/2oz can anchovies (see Fresh tip)
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Cut the spiked tops off the artichokes using a very sharp knife and remove any of the outer leaves that are very tough. Halve and place straight into a bowl of cold water and the juice of half a lemon to prevent browning. If the artichokes are a bit larger, cut into quarters and if necessary remove the furry chokes. Add the vinegar to a large pan of boiling water, add artichokes, simmer for 5 minutes, drain. Sauté the bacon and garlic in half the oil and cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water. When the pasta is nearly finished add the artichokes to the bacon and garlic with the rest of the oil and continue to sauté gently. When the pasta is ready, drain, rinse, tip into a preheated serving bowl. Mix in the artichokes and bacon. Arrange the anchovies on top and sprinkle with the Parmesan.

Michael's Tip
When you're cooking artichokes, don't throw away the water. Save it to use as a basis for brilliant vegetable stock - we'll be telling you about home-made stock in a future issue.

Many people don't like the salty taste of anchovies. The secret is to soak them in milk for about five minutes, then rinse in water before you use them.

Artichokes Benedict
(New Recipe)

Serves four

This takes me back to the time I spent in New York staying with friends in a wonderful apartment building called The Dakota. I used to meet Lauren Bacall in the lift, it's where they filmed Rosemary's Baby and sadly was John Lennon's last home. The Russian Tea Room was a favourite meeting place and Eggs Benedict was practically a legal requirement if you wanted to stay in the city for Sunday brunch. Here, I've combined it with artichokes. This recipe may sound a bit fiddly, but believe me . . . it isn't. If a cack-handed person like me can open an artichoke, anyone can.

4 large globe artichokes
4 large slices smoked ham
3 egg yolks
4 tbsp water
2 tbsp lemon juice
75g/3oz unsalted butter
4 medium eggs

Pack the artichokes tightly into a large saucepan, completely cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes (see Fresh Tip). While they're cooking, dry fry the ham and make the Hollandaise sauce:

Put the eggs yolks into a Bain Marie - or a large bowl in a saucepan of simmering water. Add the water and lemon juice and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add the butter, one small piece at a time, still stirring constantly, until thickened. Sorry, but this will take about 15 minutes.

Drain the artichokes upside down. When cool enough to handle, open the outside leaves, pull out the central leaves and furry bits (the choke) this exposes the heart. Place a slice of ham in the middle of each artichoke.

Poach the eggs (see Michael's Tip). Put on top of the ham and pour the Hollandaise sauce over the egg.

Michael's Tip
People say the easiest way to check when an artichoke is cooked is to pull off one of the outside leaves. Much better is to lift them out with tongs and stick a sharp pointed knife into the base. Artichokes are cooked when the base is soft.

My wife has mastered the art of poaching eggs. Bring a large deep frying pan or wok full of water to a boil. Add a small dash of vinegar. Gently roll the eggs around in it for about 30 seconds - this helps to keep the whites together. Remove the eggs and turn the water down to a simmer. Break the eggs into the water and simmer for four minutes.

Gratin Of Globe Artichokes
Serves 2

This is one of my favourite dishes at this time of year, when the young artichokes are just starting to appear. It's simple, delicious and tastes just as good cold the next day.

4 medium but not baby artichokes
Juice of half a lemon
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
About 75ml/3fl oz olive oil
2 tsp herbes de Provence
2 tomatoes, sliced
5 tbsp grated Gruyere cheese - the more mature the better

Peel off any tough outer leaves of the artichokes and cut off all the spiky tips. Quarter and remove the hairy chokes. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and set aside. In a small pan, soften the onion in half the oil then transfer to an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with the herbes de Provence. Arrange the tomato slices and artichokes on top. Scatter over the cheese. Sprinkle with the rest of the oil and bake for 40 minutes at 180C/350F/gas 4

Lucky Artichoke Dip

Serves three to four

Dips are great fun to have at parties, when everyone can help themselves. Artichokes are a rather unusual choice, but they work well. You can make - or buy - any sort of dip you like. Salsa works well. Plain mayo is a quick alternative. Hummus is good. But here I've come up with two very different dips to suit different tastes.

4 large globe artichokes

For the Thai sauce:
3 heaped tbsp smooth peanut butter
1 tsp golden caster sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce
Large pinch ground ginger

For the Herb mayo sauce:
8 tbsp mayonnaise - preferably home-made
Half a handful fresh chives
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp tarragon leaves

Cook the artichokes - see recipe for Artichokes Benedict above. While they're cooking, make the two sauces:

For both dips, simply mix the ingredients together and whiz in a blender or food processor. Serve separately in bowls beside the artichokes. Dip the succulent fleshy ends of the leaves into the dip, chew off, discard the rest of the leaf into another large bowl. Carry on till you get to the middle, remove the choke and your prize is the succulent heart with more of the delicious dips.


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