It’s been a pretty wild and windy start to the New Year for us down in the heel. Walking up the lane with the dogs earlier I spotted countless almond and ancient olive trees, which have cracked and lost branches in the strong winds we had yesterday and one olive tree had become completely uprooted.
This highlights the importance of pruning the trees well and regularly feeding them. It could be coincidence, but the damaged trees were either on land regularly poisoned with weedkiller or they were on abandoned land, where the trees are large and unwieldy. Abandoned trees become too dense at the top causing too much wind resistance.
The only damage we suffered was a rather large split in our three-year old mimosa tree. Finger’s crossed though, some rather swift action with some grafting paste, an old rag to bandage the wound and a haircut should save the tree.
One the subject of wind, we’re now into the fartichoke….er…artichoke season…
The artichokes, which grow so well here are the best I’ve ever tasted and Carciofo Brindisino (globe artichokes from the Brindisi region) recently received PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status. Our Christmas visitors from London were astounded by the price of them in the market €2 for 10; apparently it’s more like 2 for 10 in the UK.
For Jane and Jules and anyone else who is interested, here is a little tutorial on preparing artichokes hearts to be used in a variety of recipes.
First wash your artichoke, then cut off the stem (you can still eat the stem, but not today we won’t).
Then cut the artichoke just below the halfway mark (you can cut it a wee bit higher but you run the risk of including inedible stringy bits in your finished dish).
Then break off the tough outer leaves (once again, don’t be shy to take off more than you think as you really don’t want any tough, scratchy bits remaining).
Next cut it into quarters. If there is no hairy heart pop them into water, which contains the juice of half a lemon to stop them turning black.
If there is a hairy choke, cut it out before popping it in the water. Smaller artichokes, when fresh, don’t always have a hairy choke.
Boil enough water to cover the artichoke hearts with the juice of the other half of lemon and pop the artichoke hearts in and boil for a few minutes if you are using small artichokes and about 10 minutes for larger ones.
Drain and leave to cool, before either popping under oil as anti-pasti (great for putting on pizzas and in salads too), dipping in batter and frying tempura style or chopping or using whole in any other recipes.
To serve whole, cut the tough tips of the leaves off with scissors, holding the stalk to keep the artichoke steady. Using a knife, slice the base off, so that it will sit upright, before trimming off the pointed top (the younger the artichoke, the less you’ll need to cut off). Pull the pale centre leaves out, and then scoop the choke out with a spoon, without disturbing the heart underneath.
As before, drop each one in a bowl of water to which lemon juice has been added. Cook them in a pan of boiling salted water for 35-45 minutes (when they’re ready you should easily be able to pull out a leaf). Drain upside down.
To eat pull the leaves off and dip them in hollandaise sauce, garlic mayo, melted butter or garlic butter etc, drawing the leaf through your teeth to remove the tender flesh before discarding the rest.