Spring produce is here

March 5, 2014 

Spring is not here yet, but the produce at the supermarkets and farmers' markets say otherwise.

An exceptional find at my favorite neighborhood supermarket is an abundance of artichokes for cheap. Now, how fantastic is that? Some friends had a get-together on Saturday, one of those bring finger foods type parties. When I saw the artichokes, I knew what I was bringing.

I like artichokes any way they are prepared, but a favorite is simply boiled or steamed on the stove top. The artichokes take a bit of work, such as snipping off the sharp points on the leaves, but are worth it.

For those intimidated by fresh artichokes, don't be. Here's a quick tutorial.

• Buy the artichoke.

• Take home, rinse and grab a pair of kitchen shears.

• Cut the stem off, so that the artichoke will sit straight on a plate.

• Trim the bottom leaves that are often tough, one row is probably enough.

• Snip off sharp points on all leaves. You can stop here and put them in a pot of water seasoned with salt, garlic cloves and a bay leaf.

• However, I don't stop there. I cut into the top of the choke and go down to the fuzzy part and remove that, but do not touch the artichoke heart. To me, that's the prize at the bottom of the choke for guests and me.

• Place in 5- or 6-quart pan. I place a 3-quart pan on top of the artichokes to hold them down in the water, allowing them to cook quicker.

• Boil or steam for 35-45 minutes, depending on the size of the artichokes. Remove from water with tongs as not to get burned.

• When cooled, spread the leaves apart some to make a bowl in the center of the choke. Fill the center with your favorite dip. I usually use a mild ranch or even mayonnaise with a tad of balsamic vinegar as the dip.

• Enjoy. Simply pull off the leaves, dip and scrape the leaf and dip off with your teeth. When all the leaves are gone (sounds like a song) and you are down to the heart, simply cut the heart into pieces for the guests to enjoy.

With Lent starting today, artichokes can be used in casseroles, salads or appetizers. Here are two more uses for artichokes. These are low-fat and tasty and perfect for Lent.

SHRIMP AND ARTICHOKE QUICHE

3 cups water

1 teaspoon liquid shrimp or crab boil seasoning

1 pound unpeeled medium-size fresh Gulf shrimp

Vegetable cooking spray

1/3 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs

3/4 cup egg substitute, thawed

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 fresh artichoke hearts, chopped, or 1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

3/4 cup nonfat cottage cheese

1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese

1/3 cup sliced green onions

1/4 cup (1 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

Bring water and seasoning to boil in a medium saucepan; add shrimp and cook 3-5 minutes or until shrimp are pink. Drain well; rinse with cold water. Chill shrimp. Peel and devein shrimp; coarsely chop, set aside.

If using fresh artichokes, trim points off the leaves and boil for 35-45 minutes. When done, scoop out the fuzzy part and cut out the hearts. Set aside.

Coat a 10-inch quiche dish or pie plate with vegetable cooking spray. Coat bottom and sides of quiche dish evenly with toasted breadcrumbs. Set quiche dish aside.

Combine egg substitute, flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; stir well. tir in shrimp, artichoke hearts, and remaining ingredients. Pour artichoke mixture into prepared quiche dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes or until set. Let quiche stand 10 minutes before serving. Yield: 8 servings (142 calories per serving).

-- From "The Low-Fat Way To Cook"

GRECIAN STUFFED ARTICHOKES

4 small fresh artichokes

Lemon wedge

Vegetable cooking spray

1/2 cup minced shallots

1 cup soft breadcrumbs

1 (2-ounce) jar diced pimiento, drained

3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons ripe olives

1 teaspoon dried whole basil

1/2 teaspoon dried whole thyme

1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper

Wash artichokes by plunging up and down in cold water. Cut off stem ends; trim 1/2-inch from top of each artichoke. Remove any loose bottom leaves from artichokes. Wish scissors, trim away about one-fourth of each outer leaf. Rub top and edges of each artichoke with lemon wedge to prevent discoloration.

Place artichokes in a Dutch oven; add water to depth of 1-inch. Bring to a boil; cover; reduce heat and simmer 22 to 25 minutes or until almost tender. Drain; let cool. Spread leaves apart; scrape out fuzzy thistle center (choke) with a spoon and discard. Set artichoke aside.

Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Place over medium-high heat until hot. Add shallots and saute until tender. Remove from heat. Add breadcrumbs and remaining ingredients; toss gently. Spoon breadcrumb mixture evenly over artichoke cavities. Place artichokes in shallow baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings. 193 calories per serving.

-- From "the Low-Fat Way To Cook."

Send your springtime recipes

Readers, please send me your favorite springtime vegetable recipes, so I can share them.

Andrea Yeager, who can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net, takes contributions at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

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