What a great weekend! Despite the vagaries of a Scottish ‘summer’ – which is basically autumn with added midges and tennis – my family and I had an idyllic Saturday and Sunday. A perfect mix of socialising and doing bother all. Humour me for a few minutes while I elucidate.
Every year we host a big barbecue, with work colleagues, family of colleagues and Mr A’s fellow Maggies Monster Bike and Hikers in attendance. I buy decent sausages and fish, and make homemade burgers, salads and maybe a fruity pavlova or two. But it’s really about the mildly alcohol-enhanced chat (Scottish stereotype intact), daft games involving malted milk balls and water guns, and treating our tolerant neighbours to my daughter’s frankly awesome taste in tunes.
The past few times Mr A and his partner in all things childish, Issy, have taken to scouring the charity shops for the most dire, embarrassing and ill-fitting hats and garments to inflict on our game partygoers: every balding man has to have an Abba wig and at least someone has to sport superhero underpants over their trousers (hello Gordon!). But every year there is the fret about what the weather might unleash. So, every year a marquee gets erected in the garden to act as a weather charm, warding off looming thunderheads that tend to gather like snarling dogs. Do you do that too? Not set up marquees but, say, drag an umbrella around so that you won’t need it: it always rains if I don’t have one rather than when I do. I practise a lot of rain god appeasing here in Edinburgh.
But, despite an almighty downpour of rainforest proportion at T minus 2 hours, we ended up dancing, singing, gossiping, marshmallow toasting and chowing without the downer of raincoats and wellies. All under under our nearly-midnight sun. Bliss. And to top it all off from two very thoughtful friends came the gift of little coats for our rescue hens. So even our girls could join in the dress up ‘fun’. We tried one on our most amiable (ie, daft) girl and it fitted perfectly. She wasn’t too sure about it, but I bet she will be clucking for it before too long.
#This week’s recipe is a simple one, but requires a little patience with the artichokes. You can of course buy grilled artichoke hearts in oil from any decent deli, but it’s so much more satisfying to let them keep their premium priced imports and do a little diy. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to brine your own olives.
When I was young my mother would spend a small fortune buying the then-exotic edible thistles. I was always amazed that she could transform the prickly forbidding globes into lemon and butter soaked miracles of deliciousness. I clearly remember gorging myself on them past even the point of simple greed. Dragging the soft grey-green flesh through my newly grown in ‘big girl teeth’ was an unspoken pleasure of summer. These days, mindful that it’s my own money I’m spending, I eat them in the context of a meal rather than as the meal. That’s where this recipe comes in. It is quite simply my favourite recipe for these pretty little sculptural vegetables. I make it a little different every time but this is probably the simplest. As always, freestyle with complementary additions, perhaps some herb-spiked feta or garlic-sauteed shrimps.
History & Nutrition Bit: Globe artichokes, or Cynara cardunculus if you want to be precise, is basically a big, edible thistle. How the ancients thought that something this beautiful but forbidding looking would have any culinary promise is beyond me. A testament perhaps to their imagination, or level of starvation. But many of us are glad that they saw beyond the tough, leathery leaves to the glorious tender heart.
Scholars believe that globe artichokes were first cultivated in Italy, although archaelogical evidence shows they originated in Egypt. Initially used as an exclusive sweet tidbit of alleged aphrodisiacal repute, it is now eaten more widely as a still-exclusive treat, albeit tending towards the savoury. Most of the commercially available produce is grown in California, Italy, Spain and France, but the many hybrids around make it easy enough for many of us to grow them in our own gardens. At a local allotment here in Edinburgh, magnificent specimens stand bold and brave against the keen North wind. The thistle is, after all, Scotland’s national flower so I guess it is reasonable that an edible relative should thrive here.
As far as nutritional properties, the liver-supporting compound cynara in globe artichokes is highly prized for use as a hang-over remedy. But this compound has wider medical usage as an anticholesterolemic and hypoglycaemic, and in helping relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Although pregnant women and those with liver cancer are advised to avoid globe artichoke leaf extract culinary use of globe artichokes is absolutely fine unless told otherwise.
Globe artichokes are also sources of folate, Vitamins B3, B5, potassium, manganese, biotin and zinc. The relatively high amounts of B vitamins in the globe artichoke can potentially help with energy and alertness – all helpful when undergoing treatment for cancer.