Artichokes: Eat their hearts out

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Majestic looking, versatile and easy to prepare, the artichoke is the crowning glory in Skye Gyngell's kitchen at this time of year

Artichokes, the edible flowers of the cultivated thistle, are a majestic addition to any garden – and in the kitchen, they are versatile and flavoursome.

I prepare them according to their size. Larger ones I steam whole and serve with warm beurre blanc or with aioli at room temperature. Young ones I slice very thin and bake with cream, thyme and pecorino. But the best are the tenderest buds, picked before their fuzzy "choke" has developed. These I simmer in olive oil and serve with lemon juice or persillade.

To prepare, tear off any small leaves from the base and cut crosswise through the leaves towards the top. Stand them on end, trim the leaves and remove the choke with a spoon, leaving just the heart. They are now ready to slice, roast or deep fry.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627

Artichokes with garlic and thyme

This is a lovely way to cook young, tender artichokes. Once cooked they will keep well for a couple of weeks. Do with them what you like – here I have served them antipasti style, accompanied simply by slices of Parma ham.

Serves 4

20 very small artichokes
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
4-5 sprigs of thyme
300ml/10fl oz good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
250ml/8fl oz white wine or verjus
Sea salt and pepper
Half a lemon

Peel the artichokes to their pale leaves, trim off the tops to remove any thorns and cut all but 1/2 an inch of the stems. Drop into a bowl of acidulated water (cold water with the juice of half a lemon squeezed in).

Place the garlic, thyme, oil and wine into a shallow pan. Add the artichokes and season lightly. If the artichokes are not fully covered, top up with water. Cover and simmer over a low heat for 15-20 minutes; the artichokes should be tender and cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Turn the heat up slightly to reduce the sauce a little – the oil and wine will emulsify and make a dressing. Add the lemon juice.

Pour the warm dressing over the artichokes, allow to cool to room temperature and serve.

Raw beef with deep-fried artichokes and agretti

Warm, crisp artichokes with raw fillet of beef and dressed with olive oil is a lovely combination. I discovered this accidentally – two different dishes colliding. Leave out the agretti, a tangy marsh grass, if it's too difficult to find.

Serves 4

A small handful of agretti
200g/7oz raw best-quality fillet of beef
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
45ml/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
The juice of half a lemon
1 litre/13/4 pints corn oil, heated to 170C/340F
3 prepared artichokes
Lemon wedges to serve

Trim the agretti of its stalks and rinse under cold running water. Place a pot of water on to boil and blanch the agretti briefly. Set aside.

Using a sharp knife, slice the beef thinly, then chop crosswise, so you have small cubes. Continue to chop until you have the finest beef. Place in a bowl, season and dress with the oil and lemon

When the corn oil is hot (test it by dropping in a small piece of fresh bread – it should sizzle), drop the artichokes in and cook for two minutes, or until they are crispy and brown. Drain on paper towels and season with salt. Place the seasoned beef on a plate, place the warm artichokes alongside and top with a little agretti. Serve at once with a wedge of lemon. '

Wild sea bass with sprouting broccoli, marinated artichokes and chickpeas

Sprouting broccoli is so good now that it is worth the effort of using it whenever you can. This is easy to make. At Petersham we use soft organic chickpeas from Spain, which arrive in jars pre-cooked – there is nothing left to do but drain and heat.

Serves 4

8 artichokes
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
A few sprigs of thyme
150ml/5fl oz quality extra-virgin olive oil
150ml/5fl oz white wine or verjus
Sea salt and pepper
Half a lemon
350g/111/2oz cooked chickpeas
400g/13oz sprouting broccoli
1 red chilli
A small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
The juice and zest of one lemon
800g/26oz sea bass, cut into four portions
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas7.

Prepare the artichokes as per the recipe with garlic and thyme. Drain the chickpeas and rinse well under cool running water. Place a large pot of well-salted water on to boil. Trim the broccoli and nip off the base. Cut in half lengthwise if the stems are fat. Plunge the broccoli into the boiling water and cook for a minute or so. Drain and set aside.

Slice the chilli finely, leaving in the seeds. Place the chickpeas in a bowl with the parsley, chilli, a tablespoon of olive oil and lemon zest and juice. Toss so that the chickpeas are well coated. Place a large pan on the stove and add the chickpeas, broccoli and artichokes. Place a lid on top and cook for about five minutes.

Season the fish on both sides. Place a non-stick pan on a high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Once hot, lay the fish in skin side down and cook for three minutes or until the skin is crisp and brown. Remove to the oven pan and cook without turning for a further three minutes, until the flesh is cooked through.

Divide the warm vegetables between four plates, lay the fish on top and serve.

Slow-cooked veal shanks with braised artichokes

Veal shanks are both impressive when they arrive at the table and meltingly good. We serve this dish with roast potatoes or greens or beans and then we lace the dish with lashings of olive oil.

Serves 4

4 veal shanks (ask your butcher)
1tbsp olive oil
400ml/14fl oz white wine
2 jars of good-quality tomatoes
The peel of one lemon
1 bunch of sage
3 fresh bay leaves
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 dried chilli, crumbled
600ml/20fl oz veal or chicken stock
12 artichokes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 189C/350F/Gas 4.

Season the shanks on both sides. Place a casserole dish over a medium heat and pour in the oil. When hot, add the shanks and brown well on both sides – it will take around six minutes. Remove the meat from the pan and pour off any fat. Return the pan to the heat and deglaze with the wine – it should reduce by about a third. Add the tomatoes, lemon, sage, bay, garlic and chilli and stir. Pour in the stock and return the meat. Put a lid on, and cook in the oven for two hours, checking every now and then that there is plenty of liquid.

Meanwhile, prepare the artichokes as described in the introduction (page 46). Place each one in acidulated water as you go. Remove the veal from the oven and add the artichokes. Cover and return for 30 minutes or until both the meat and the artichokes are tender. Season and serve.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on where to buy the best artichokes...

Globe artichokes have been grown in England since the 1500s. A perennial thistle, the edible parts include the leaves and heart, which are harvested in spring. In England, the larger, green globe artichokes (such as Camus de Bretagne) tend to grow best.

Riverford Organics grows more than 200,000 artichoke plants each year. The artichokes are available seasonally as part of its vegetable box scheme. Tel: 0845 600 2311, www.riverford.co.uk

Rocket Gardens sells established vegetable plants and gardens you can grow yourself. Its instant Mediterranean garden includes artichokes. Tel: 01209 831 468, www.rocketgardens.co.uk

Dartford artichokes have become something of a mystery. In the 1800s, Dartford was a small market town, and the former site of the Dartford Priory was apparently used for the growing of artichokes that were reported to have been the best in England. We'd love to hear from anyone who knows anything about the Dartford artichoke – and in particular from anyone who still grows them. Please email me at: wendy@petershamnurseries.com

Further reading: Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardeners' Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles by Eric Toensmeier (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007) is an excellent source

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