All Choked Up

As I was preparing dinner last night, I again was taken with nostalgia and thinking of my maternal grandmother and also my Great, Great Aunt Peg.

I think that’s the appeal of food, cooking, and meals shared in common. They have no boundaries, no time frames. Food is ever-changing, but also just the same. Food is always present to man. All of mankind requires eating to survive. All of history shares the common thread of eating, whether it be hunting, gathering, cultivation or in present-day, shopping. Meal preparation and ingredients vary according to geography, culture and history, but yet many methods and ingredients are renewed and presented again.

Christ’s Paschal Mystery is not only something that happened in history, but is constantly Re-presented to us. The life of the Catholic Church is not in a timeline, but actually a circle or continuum. There is no time with God; everything is every-present. And in our final goal, heaven, that will be reality for us, also. So in a small way, our food gives us a glimpse of this continuum.

It finally became clear to me why it is so appealing to me to research and try traditional foods for feasts in the Liturgical Year, or to bring forward recipes from family members. I am longing for heaven. We might not actually eat in Paradise, but our meals are a small taste of the ever-present and eternal, and also of the universality of the Mystical Body.

Globe Artichokes make me think of Little Grandma and Aunt Peg. I love them any way. I can eat them just boiled and scrape off just the tender part of the leaves without dipping. I truly have not met a type of artichoke that I dislike.

And that credit goes to Grandma and her aunt, Aunt Peg. They introduced artichokes to me. How I loved coming over for a visit to hear the pressure cooker rattling away and the promise of the soon-cooked artichokes. I was only 6 or 7 when they showed me how to eat an artichoke, what parts were edible, how to remove the choke, and mostly, how to savor every bite. I wish I had more than just a mental picture of that little kitchen in Houston on Elm Street, with Aunt Peg’s round table and the pressure cooker steaming away on the stove. But the memories are still vivid.

But I confess…I never cooked an artichoke…until yesterday. I was intimidated. I didn’t think I knew the secrets of my great, great aunt and grandmother. To read about the sensitivity of artichokes, the chemicals that change, just made me think I’d do something wrong. So I would buy them canned, frozen, marinated but never fresh. Now you know, I’m not a true foodie!

Wouldn’t you be a little intimidated when reading this from The New Complete Book of Food:

Preparing This Food
Slicing into the base of the artichoke rips cell walls and releases polyphenoloxidase, an enzyme that converts phenols in the vegetable to brown compounds that darken the “heart” of the globe. To slow the reaction, paint the cut surface with a solution of lemon juice or vinegar and water.

What Happens When You Cook This Food
Chlorophyll, the green plant pigment, is sensitive to acids. When you heat a globe artichoke, the chlorophyll in it green leaves reacts with acids in the artichoke or in the cooking water, forming brown pheophytin. The pheophytin, plus yellow carotenes in the leaves, can turn a cooked artichokes leaves bronze. To prevent this reaction, cook the artichokes very quickly so there is no time fore the chlorophyll to react to the acid, or cook it in lots of water to dilute the acids, or cook it with the lid off the pot so that the volatile acids can float off into the air.

I started simply. I bought 4 artichokes and boiled them and put the hearts in the salad. I’m buoyed by my success and have lost my fear. Dh was surprised how different the taste and texture as compared to marinated. I think he wanted the more intense flavor of the marinade, but I enjoyed the true taste shining through.

medium_monastery_garden.gifThe warm seasons change is when I start pulling out the cookbooks by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette. Yesterday I used Fresh from a Monastery Garden which features 29 different types of vegetables (or vegetable families) and gives several recipes for each vegetable. There are 4 recipes for artichokes. I chose

Artichokes Basque Style (Artichauts a la Basquaise)

Makes 4 servings

4 artichokes, trimmed
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 small head of leaf lettuce
4 medium size-tomatoes, sliced in quarters lengthwise
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced in rounds (I omit)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
green olives

7 Tbsp. virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In salted water mixed with lemon juice, cook the artichokes for 30 minutes, or until tender. Remove and rinse in cold water. Remove the leaves, take out the heart, and chill until ready to use.

Arrange whole lettuce leaves in four separate salad plates. Place 1 artichoke heart in the center, and surround alternating with tomato and egg slices. Add onion slices and green olives around artichoke.

Prepare vinaigrette and pour over each salad.

My presentation wasn’t as beautiful as Brother Victor suggests. I used a bagged salad and Roma tomatoes and cut up the heart so that there was a bit in every bite. It’s what I had! We enjoyed the flavor and I’ll try harder for a “pretty” next time now that I have overcome my fear.