It’s been a bit hectic of late. Work has been ludicrously busy with early mornings and late nights. My social calendar currently largely revolves around my frequent chiropractor sessions since hearing the diagnosis: “Ooh, that’s unusual – never seen that before” (never words you want to hear uttered from a health professional); my newly enrolled yoga sessions – to ensure I don’t cripple myself any further and swimming lessons to ensure well, that I don’t drown. I have no idea when or how I’ll find time to fit in all the blogging I mean to catch up on.
We have the added drama of house hunting too – we came so close to finding our dream home. We put in an offer, had it accepted, did our due diligence with a pest and building report and were consequently introduced to the monstrosity that is rising damp. As a fault it sounded so innocuous we didn’t know what to make of it – since when did a little damp become a problem? As far as diagnoses go, we had no idea how to assess the risk – should I be worried like I’ve been informed that I have the flu and need rest or that I have highly contagious incurable flesh eating disease? How bad could it be?
A few “friend-of-a-friend” horror stories later and we know the answer to that question. I am now well acquainted with the risks of respiratory illness, allergies, smelly houses and ruined, mouldy clothes. We retracted our offer, watched with uncertainty as rising damp consumed our hopes of owning a home and sank into what I can only describe as depressive funk.
When did it all get so complicated?
In an environment and age where food is also getting more complicated – deconstructed, reconstructed, molecularised, localised, and with recipes that read like lengthy multi-step, multi-day scientific experiments – there’s definitely a place for simplicity.
One of the simpler things we’ve been enjoying recently are artichokes. Artichokes are actually edible thistles and if left to flower will develop deep purple flowers like the common or Scotch thistle. In Australia the most common cultivated varieties are the green and purple artichokes with a peak season starting in September and ending in November. As a springtime bloomer they’re currently still in season and though nearing the end of the season are still cheap, plentiful, tender and tasty. Whenever we see some fine specimens we pick them up and enjoy them as a snack, entree or on occasion, a post-midnight late supper treat. The portion of the artichoke we eat is actually the young flowering bud of the artichoke plant and the spoon shaped petals of the globe artichoke seem perfectly designed vessels for scooping up delicious tasty dipping sauces.
A simple vinaigrette is all you need to enjoy these petals, but you can of course create any dipping sauce you want. For this artichoke sampling session, we created 3 chunky sauces – a simple red wine vinaigrette; a diced capsicum, chilli, lime juice and lime zest variety and an incredibly moreish anchovy, garlic and jalapeno sauce – the last is a recipe based on one from the champion of slow food, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and I find it so addictive I could drink this sauce neat.
Anchovy, garlic and jalapeño dipping sauce
- 3 salted anchovy fillets in oil
- 3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tsp pickled jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
- 4 tbsp jalapeno pepper pickling juice
- 4 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt and cracked black pepper to taste
- Prepare artichokes. We don’t tend to bother with this first step but worthwhile especially when serving others – prepare by cutting off the top to remove the spiky petals and remove choke with a spoon. Squeeze over lemon juice on cut surfaces to prevent the artichoke from oxidising and turning brown.
- Remove the tough, older leaves at the base of the stem and trim stem to about 3 or 4 cm.
- Boil or steam artichokes for 15 – 30 minutes depending on size. If boiling, use something to weigh down the artichokes to ensure they cook properly.
- Meanwhile prepare sauce by frying anchovies and garlic in olive oil until fragrant and browned. Add in other ingredients, mix and season to taste.
- Remove artichokes from water, drain and serve immediately with dipping sauces.
There are plenty of other ways to enjoy artichokes – from stuffing them, frying them or shredding them for salads, but the pure simplicity appeals most to my inner sloth. There is something so therapeutic about the methodical action of peeling off petal after petal, dipping it in a piquant sauce and shredding off the succulent flesh between your teeth until you reach those rewarding soft, tender inner petals and the meaty heart itself. I liken the process to indulging in pot mussels for vegetarians – perhaps it’ll be the vegetarian version of all-you-can-eat-mussel nights!
Apart from just being tasty morsels, there are medicinal uses of artichoke, and it is said to aid in digestion and ease nausea and cramps; lower cholesterol through its active ingredient cynarin and even aid symptoms of constipation. Its the vegetable that keeps on giving. On further research, one report showed that the artichoke industry is minor in Australia when compared to global standards and it represents only a mere 0.03% of the gross value of Australian vegetable production. Consumption is reportedly fairly restricted to ethnic groups familiar with the plant and its uses. Surprisingly given the small local production, a small quantity is currently exported to South East Asia.
Out of curiosity, I asked my parents whether they’d tried artichokes before and they replied that they had once, but they found them unpalatable. When asked how they prepared and cooked them, they replied “stir-fried”.
Stir fried artichoke!! I can imagine why they thought it was awful. Maybe South East Asians are more familiar with this plant than the Chinese. Artichoke tea is apparently quite popular and produced in commercial quantities in Da Lat, Vietnam.
But, if it weren’t for the Co-pilot introducing me to the simple pleasures of fresh artichoke, I wouldn’t have fared much better than my parents as my familiarity with this vegetable has been purely with pickled artichoke hearts. And given the artichoke season is almost over, I present you my favourite pickled artichoke dip to tide you over until fresh artichokes are plentiful again. This isn’t our own recipe but one introduced to us by good foodie friends Mr & Mrs Lightning DB and now adopted and promoted by us at all gatherings. Their baked artichoke, Parmesan and fresh jalapeno dip is so dangerously addictive, I have to issue a warning statement as undoubtedly, it’s so tasty you will flay the roof of your mouth trying to cram in great scalding mouthfuls of this scrumptious dip.
Baked artichoke, Parmesan and jalapeño dip
- 1x 200g jar of pickled artichoke hearts in vinegar
- 1 fresh jalapeño chilli, diced (if not available, substitute with a long green chilli)
- 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup of whole egg mayonnaise
- salt and pepper to taste
- crackers or fresh crusty bread to serve
- Simply mix all the ingredients together in an oven proof dish and bake on low – medium heat for 20 minutes at 180 degC until cheese has melted and bubbling.
Importantly, like the anchovy and garlic dip – for its appeal, this baked dip is so ridiculously simple to prepare. Simple tasty artichoke solutions for all seasons. And the best thing about both recipes – they force us to slow down, take a breath and savour our food. The fresh artichokes are designed for savoured consumption, and the inherent molten lava temperature of the baked dip will prevent you from scoffing it down too quickly.
If only all the issues we encounter can be simplified so. For us tomorrow is the start of another weekend and yet another house hunting session.by