It’s artichoke time!

The artichoke season is under way in my garden, and I am very fortunate with my crop this year!  I re-planted a row of artichokes last year – and I am reaping the rewards!! 🙂  Artichokes are a delicious vegetable that I never tire of!

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When I bought some new plants last year, I asked the vendor how far to space them.  He recommended a distance of 1 metre between plants, and added some advice: he told me to dig holes halfway between two plants and to bury a bucketful of compost.  The plants would  find the nutrients and take what they needed.  Good advice!!

What with the rain we had over the winter, and the compost, the artichoke plants are looking magnificent.  As a result of their lush growth, they have sent up many flower stalks and an impressive number of large, beautiful artichokes!!

I’ve not yet completely solved the problem of earwigs, which started a few years ago – they just seem to love squatting under the outer layer of leaves of the artichokes!!  I imagine that I could resort to insecticides, but that wouldn’t do!  I would rather live with the fact that I’ll have to shake them out of their hiding places!! 🙂

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One of my favourite recipes is called “Barcelona Grilled Artichokes” from Patricia Wells’ book, “Patricia Wells at home in Provence”. For this delicious dish the prepared artichokes are sliced, marinated in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, and grilled – the result is totally yummy!

Barcelona grilled artichokes

Talking to other people about food and cooking is always rewarding and interesting.  One of my neighbours told me to braise artichokes with potatoes – I tried that, but the result didn’t taste exceptional.  The same neighbour also gave me the idea of adding tomatoes, so I tried cooking the artichokes with smoked bacon and tomato, which worked wonderfully well!

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In Claudia Roden’s “Middle Eastern Cookbook” I found two recipes I enjoyed. The first used honey, lemon juice and preserved lemons, the second paired the artichokes with broad beans and almonds. Both produced delicious dishes and I’ll be preparing them again.

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My overall favorite dish was the artichokes cooked with bacon and tomato and I will attempt to give you the recipe below.  Pictures of the progress are at the end of the recipe.

Artichokes with bacon and tomato

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

5 globe artichokes
200g smoked bacon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
1 large clove of garlic
1 tin chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
1 lemon, juiced

Prepare the artichokes:  Pour the lemon juice into a bowl large enough to hold all the artichokes and add enough cold water to submerge the trimmed artichokes in.  Trim the artichokes by snapping off the leaves, starting at the base and working your way up.  Once in a while dip the artichoke into the acidulated water – the newly exposed flesh can turn brown very quickly.  Once the leaves remaining on the artichoke start to look yellow-ish you can stop snapping.

Trim the top with a sharp knife.

You will probably be able to see the choke now – a mass of fine white hairs at the centre of the artichoke.  I imagine that they would make you choke and hence the name?

Remove the choke with the aid of a teaspoon, and keep the trimmed artichoke bottoms in the bowl of water.

Cut each artichoke bottom into eight wedges.

Chop the onion and bacon into small dice and cook gently in the olive oil until the onion is softened.

Add the garlic (chopped finely or pushed through a garlic press) and cook for a minute longer.  Turn up the heat and add the drained artichoke pieces.

Fry, stirring from time to time until the artichokes start to brown around the edges, then add the chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.

Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the artichokes are tender and the sauce is reduced.

Serve hot on their own as a vegetable course, or allow to cool, dress with a little olive oil and lemon juice and serve as tapas or an appetizer.

Note: you can of course use frozen artichoke bottoms for this recipe, which will reduce the preparation time and will produce very similar results!

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A is for Artichoke

The artichoke season in my garden is coming to an end, and I have been very fortunate with my crop. There must have been well over 30 artichokes on the plants, and I have not yet tired of them!!

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This is the first time that I have tried to grow artichokes, so it is still all very new. I started with three small plants last year, knowing that I would not get a crop until the following year, but that was about all. As soon as the plants were in the ground, the snails and slugs made a banquet of them, and for some time it looked as though I was trying to grow lace :). In time though, the plants grew stronger, and with the judicious use of slug pellets the artichoke plants grew and prospered.

In the fall I completed the row with a further two plants. As the winter drew to an end the plants were magnificent, large mounds of silvery leaves. It became very exciting when the first flower buds started to appear.

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The first artichokes I picked were truly gorgeous to look at. However, when I got them into the kitchen, I found that families of earwigs had taken up residence in my prized vegetables; they had paid their rent by eliminating the greenfly/blackfly population, it would appear. Once I had dealt with the squatters, I prepared “Barcelona Grilled Artichokes” from Patricia Wells’ book “Patricia Wells at home in Provence”. For this delicious dish the prepared artichokes are sliced, marinated in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, and grilled, for a totally yummy result. The next three photographs are purely gratuitous, and in no way related to the recipes :)! I did unfortunately not have my camera to hand when I was cooking!

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The day after I was talking to a neighbour about artichokes, and she told me to braise them with potatoes, which I tried, but was not crazy about.  The same neighbour also gave me the idea of adding some tomato, so I tried cooking the artichokes with smoked bacon and tomato, which worked wonderfully well!

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In Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Cookbook I found two more recipes. The first used honey, lemon juice and preserved lemons, the second paired the artichokes with broad beans and almonds. Both produced delicious dishes in their own ways, and I’ll be making them again.

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My overall favorite dish this year was the artichokes cooked with bacon and tomato and I will attempt to give you the recipe here.  Pictures of the progress are at the end of the recipe.

Artichokes with bacon and tomato

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

5 globe artichokes
200g smoked bacon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
1 large clove of garlic
1 tin chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
1 lemon, juice

Prepare the artichokes:  add the lemon juice to a bowl large enough to hold all the artichokes and add water.  Trim the artichokes by snapping off the leaves starting at the stem and working your way up.  Once in a while dip the artichoke into the acidulated water – the exposed flesh can turn black very quickly.  Once the leaves left on the artichoke start to look yellow-ish you can stop and trim the top off with a knife.  You can probably see the choke now – a mass of fine white hairs at the centre of the artichoke.  I imagine that they would make you choke and hence the name?  Remove the choke with the aid of a teaspoon, and keep the trimmed artichoke bottoms in the bowl of water.  Cut each artichoke bottom into eight wedges.

Chop the onion and bacon into fine dice and cook gently in the olive oil until the onion is softened.  Add the garlic (chopped or through garlic press) and cook for a minute longer.  Turn up the heat and add the drained artichoke pieces.  Fry, stirring from time to time until the edges start to brown, then add the chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the artichokes are tender and the sauce is reduced.

Serve hot on their own as a vegetable course, or allow to cool, dress with a little olive oil and lemon juice and serve as tapas or an appetizer.

Note: you can of course use frozen artichoke bottoms for this recipe, which will reduce the preparation time, and will produce very similar results, I imagine!

Bloomin’ marvellous

Spring can be the craziest time of year – things are sprouting everywhere, and nature is surprising me with new things every day.  And that’s before you count all the spring fetes and festivals which are seemingly everywhere!

This year we appear to be having unseasonably warm weather, and many plants are growing much faster than they normally would.  Look at the wisteria, it is out in full bloom!!  And the bees love it – there’s a variety of large black bees, with iridescent bluish-black wings, which seem to zip around the flowers like lunatics.

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The kiwis are also sprouting a fair amount of leaves, as well as flower buds!

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The California poppies have been flowering for over a week now, and there’s a lovely plant called Cerinthe Major “Purpurascens” growing next to one of the poppy plants.  The two of them seem to be having a bit of a cuddle 🙂

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In my garden both plants are ridiculously easy to grow – I just leave a few of them to set seed, and forget all about them until the fall.  When the seeds sprout I weed out the ones I don’t want, et voila!

My Papa Meilland rose also started to bloom last week; it has the most beautiful old-fashioned rose scent – I wish you could smell it!

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And I’m very excited about my artichokes – I planted a row of five artichoke plants last year, tiny little plants, which were immediately attacked by all the slugs and snails in the garden.  Over the winter I managed to stop the damage to the plants (causing carnage amongst the snails and slugs :)), and they have grown into large silvery mounds of foliage.  And now the first flower buds have started to appear!!  If I’m lucky there will be so many that I will really be able to indulge – artichokes are one of my favourite vegetables!!  With the warm weather, I will soon be able to have an artichoke feast!

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And so, on to the spring fetes and fairs – lots of exciting stuff to go and see over the coming weeks!!

This past weekend, Chateau Perdiguier in Maraussan hosted the Journées Fleurs et Jardins for the 5th year running.

IMG_9486The Chateau is an incredibly impressive building, so it’s worth a visit to the fair just for a close-up look at the building.  According to the website, the Chateau got its name in the 14th century, when it was given to Jean Perdiguier by Charles V in 1375.  A few years later Perdiguier was assassinated in Montpellier, after introducing an extraordinary tax – modern-day politicians take heed??  Perdiguier didn’t have much time at his chateau, but at least he left his name behind.  Over the centuries, as the estate passed from one owner to the next, the building evolved into the impressive structure we see today.

The exhibitors of the “flower days” were spread out over a large area in front of the chateau, with stands selling all manner of flowers and other garden plants, including citrus trees, acers, and vegetable garden plants; there were decorations for the garden (some very colourful flower pots amongst them); and there was food!!  Tables and chairs were interspersed with the stalls, and the atmosphere was very festive and relaxed!

Today Chateau Perdiguier is a working winery, and part of the exhibitors were inside, in the big wine cellar.  The monumental casks are in reality made of cement, with the fronts made to look like traditional wooden casks.  There were also a number of wooden barrels (used to age wine) in the cellar, with the ends decorated with paintings.  To start off with I thought the pictures had been painted directly on to the barrel, but closer inspection revealed that pictures were detachable.

Upstairs from the cellar is a large function room, where there was an exhibition of paintings, as well as more painted barrels, and some painted wine bottles.

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There’s definitely someone with an artistic bent living there!

So there you have it – Spring in Languedoc has started!!