The Artichokes - Il-Qaqocc  

chokebigOne of the most common Maltese delicacies which is enjoyed by Maltese families is Malta is   -Il-Qaqocc - The Artichoke.
The artichoke, cynara scolymus, is actually a member of the thistle family, although its leaves are bigger, broader and soft rather than prickly. Artichoke plants are quite beautiful, like giant ferns - six feet in diameter and three to four feet high. It's the heart at the base of the flower bud produced by the plant that's prized for its delicate flavor and its versatility at the table.

Artichokes have been a part of Mediterranean cuisine for thousands of years. Some food historians attribute the cultivation of artichokes to the Romans and Greeks, while others insist that those civilizations first used wild cardoon or cardone, the artichoke's thistle-family cousin, and that the artichoke was developed from the cardoon in North Africa by Muslim agronomists. Or, Syria may have domesticated the artichoke, based on a reference from the ninth century.

Whoever was responsible, we can be grateful for their long-ago efforts, and for the hundreds of uniquely wonderful artichoke preparations ranging from Maltese bread-crumbs/olives/anchovies stuffed artichokes to Arabic couscous-stuffed artichokes and Spanish baby artichoke tapas, to Italian carciofi alla Romana, to Syrian artichoke hearts with olive oil.

Artichokes probably came to Europe through Sicily in the twelfth century. Catherine de Medici, when she married Louis of France and moved to Paris in the 14th century, is thought to have brought artichokes, along with many other Italian favorites, to French cuisine.

Artichokes are available throughout the year in some countries but peak seasons are spring (March through May) and autumn/winter (September through December).

Spring artichokes are compact, firm and heavy for their size. Baby artichokes are also plentiful in the spring.

Summer artichokes tend to have longer thorns and their leaves are more open in appearance.

Winter artichokes are more conical in shape. Some autumn and winter artichokes may be touched by frost - winter kissed - and have a light bronze to brown tint to the outer leaves. Artichoke fans prefer the winter kissed artichokes for the nutty, rich flavor. The winter artichokes do revert to their grey-green color when cooked.





I have a great new recipe for you!
Have you ever met a person that doesn't like spinach dip? Well this recipe will change their minds! I even know of people who have had this recipe and didn't realize they were even eating spinach. Remember that camouflage technique moms out there? When you couldn't get the kids to eat their Popeye vegetable? Well, this recipe for SPINACH & ARTICHOKE DIP goes even one better and is great with toasted or just warmed pita chips. You can do crackers, focaccia bread, or literally anything else you feel like putting with it but do try the toasted pita cut into wedges. My sister recently got me hooked on those.



chokebig 1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup diced white or yellow onion
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons crumbled bouillon cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
12 ounces frozen spinach, defrosted, drained, & chopped
6 ounces canned artichoke bottoms, drained and cut into
1/8-inch slices
1 cup finely shredded Monterey Jack cheese
3/4 teaspoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco)

In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil and butter together over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, 3 to 4 min. Stir in the garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer, stirring frequently and stopping before the onion and garlic brown. Sprinkle the flour and continue cooking, stirring continuously, until the mixture turns a golden-blond color, 10 to 15 minutes. Then, whisking continuously, slowly pour in the stock until it is smoothly incorporated. When the mixture begins to simmer, stir in the cream. Let it return to the simmer. Remove from the heat, add the parmesan, chicken base or bouillon cubes, lemon juice, and sugar, and stir until thoroughly blended. Add the sour cream, spinach, artichoke bottoms, Monterey Jack cheese and hot sauce, and stir until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and the cheese has melted. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately with toasted pita chips that have been cut into wedges - makes 8 to 10 servings

We have more recipces and how to prepare artichokes for cooking.
How To Select Artichokes
Choose globes that are dark green, heavy, and have "tight" leaves. Don't select globes that are dry looking or appear to be turning brown. If the leaves appear too "open" then the choke is past its prime. You can still eat them, but the leaves may be tough. (Don't throw these away you can always make artichoke soup). Artichokes are available throughout the year with peak season being from March to May with a smaller crop produced in October

How To Clean and Prepare Artichokes
1.... Tap the choke upside down in the sink. This will remove anything that may have made this artichoke a home. With most commercial grown chokes this is not usually an issue. But,  if you or a friend grow artichokes you'll find earwigs love to live in the leaves (if grown organically).

2.... Rinse the choke under running water.

3.... I do not cut away the entire stem (because it tastes good). I leave about 1 1/2" or so, trim then end and peel the top layer off the stem. You may remove the entire stem, at the base, if you prefer. (You may want to do this for "presentation" purposes.) Remove the really small leaves along the bottom of the choke. Some people whack off the top inch or so of the choke to remove the thistles and to even out the top prior to stuffing the choke. You may also use scissors or a sharp knife to trim away the sharp tips. Prepared artichokes should be placed in a bowl of water with the juice of one or two lemons added until you are ready to cook them. The Artichokes are cleaned and prepared for cooking.

How To Eat an Artichoke
Artichoke eating is a hands-on affair and another case in life where the "journey is as important as the destination"...
Pull each leaf off the choke and hold the pointed end between your fingers and drag the leaf between your teeth. Most of the edible portion is on inside bottom 1/3 of the choke leaf. When you serve artichokes it's nice to put a bowl on the table for the discarded leaves unless your serving plate is large enough to stack the leaves on the side. Artichokes are commonly served with a dip such as lemon-butter, or mayonnaise.

The Artichoke Heart
Once you've eaten all the leaves you'll see the heart or flower of the choke. By the way, the leaves closest to the heart of the choke are very tender and depending on the size and age of the choke you can frequently eat the whole cluster of leaves.  Once you see a bed of fuzzy or hair like strands you've hit the heart. Scoop out the fuzz with a spoon and discard. The rest of the base of the choke is edible, referred to as the heart. This is the favorite part of the artichoke for some people.

How To Store Artichokes
Fresh artichokes should be put in a plastic bag, unwashed, and refrigerated. It is best to use them within 4 days of purchase.  If you grow your own then cut them right before you cook them.

Baby Artichokes
Baby artichokes are fully mature artichokes that grow closer to the ground, sheltered by the larger leaves on the plant. They are easy to cook and prepare because the inner fuzzy portion of the choke does not develop. 

N u t r i t i o n
1 - 10 ounce, medium artichoke, steamed or boiled
60 ......................................calories
4.2 grams ............................protein
.2 grams (less than 1 gm).....fat
13.4 grams .......................... carbohydrate
114 grams ........................... sodium
6.5d grams .......................... fiber

Basic Boiled Artichoke
Clean and trim artichokes.
Select a heavy pot with a lid. The size will depending upon the quantity and size of the artichokes you are cooking.  Make sure the chokes will fit in the pan with the lid on.  Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups water to the pan.  At this point you can add either a little salt to the water, 1 teaspoon, or none. 

Bring the water to a boil. Place the artichokes in the pot  in a single layer if possible.  Simmer about 30 - 40 min depending on the size of the chokes. To test for doneness pull a leaf from the middle row of leaves.  The leaf should pull out easily.

When the chokes are done, remove them from the water with tongs, and allow to drain. Serve hot or cold. Chilled artichokes have more flavor.

Basic Soup Recipe

4 large artichokes, trimmed to hearts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, (white and light green parts only), sliced
1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 bay leaf
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock (substitute vegetable stock for a vegetarian soup)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup whipping creme
Salt & freshly ground white pepper to taste

Cut trimmed artichokes into thin wedges. Heat oil in a large soup pot over high heat. Add the artichokes, leek, potato, celery and bay leaf and cook and stir until the leeks start to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until potatoes and artichokes are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Let the soup cool for 5 minutes.

Strain the vegetables allowing the liquid to drain into a bowl.  Insert the metal blade into a food processor and puree the vegetable mixture in two batches.  Return the batches to the pot and mix in the vegetable liquid. Stir in the creme. Continue to warm over low heat.  Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

Basic Stuffed Artichoke
Artichokes Stuffed with Lemon-Garlic Breadcrumbs

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs from crustless French bread
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

6 medium artichokes, trimmed, left whole, chokes removed according to recipe for trimmed artichokes
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, cut into 6 pieces
1/2 cup (or more) water

Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 400�F. Mix breadcrumbs and oil in medium bowl. Spread mixture on large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden on edges, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. Mix in lemon juice, oregano, garlic and lemon peel. Season with salt and pepper.

Drain artichokes. Gently pull leaves outward from center until leaves open slightly. Fill artichoke cavities with bread stuffing. Pack stuffing between leaves. Place artichokes in 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Dot tops with butter. Pour 1/2 cup water into dish.

Cover dish with foil; bake until wooden skewer pierces artichokes easily, adding more water as necessary, about 40 minutes. Remove foil. Continue baking until tops are golden, about 20 minutes.
Serve with lemon wedges.

I Hope you have enjoyed reading about this beautiful, edible and popular plant...... enjoy