Trim The Time For Cooking

Posted: April 26, 1989

About the only drawback to fine-tasting, low-calorie, fun-to-eat artichokes is the time they require to cook. But not if done in the microwave oven.

With a microwave oven, you can cook four whole artichokes in about 15 minutes, rather than the usual hour required on a conventional stove. And in a few minutes more, you can squeeze in a couple of toppings, as well.

In the first recipe below, the final dish needs no sauce. Instead, whole artichokes are cooked with a good handful of garlic and 4 tablespoons of olive oil that moisten and flavor them as they cook. When they are done, no heavy dipping sauce is needed. These whole, garlic-studded artichokes make a fine first course.

In the second recipe, artichokes are cooked whole, then split in half for easier presentation as a side dish. You could serve them on a separate plate or right on the dinner plate. A tomato-avocado or hot buttered crumb topping adds color as well as flavor.

WHOLE ARTICHOKES WITH GARLIC CHUNKS

4 whole artichokes

1 whole head garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

4 tablespoons olive oil

Slice off the top 1/2-inch of each artichoke to trim the center cluster of leaves; then use kitchen scissors to snip off tops of remaining leaves, if desired. Trim bottom stems so that vegetables will stand upright. Put artichokes upright on plate or flat-bottomed casserole, leaving at least an inch between them.

Peel garlic and cut it into small pea-sized pieces; you should have about 1/3 cup. Use your fingers to spread open the leaves of each artichoke and drop garlic chunks within leaves. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and half the parsley. Drizzle with oil. Add 1/4 cup water to bottom of plate. Cover with plastic wrap, vented.

Microwave on high (100 percent power) until bottom can be pierced easily with a knife, 14 to 16 minutes, rotating plate every 4 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes, covered, to finish cooking. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and

serve.

Note: To eat, pull off outer leaves one at a time. Pull the leaves through partially clenched teeth to extract the soft, pulpy portion of leaf. Eat garlic chunks right on the leaves. Continue until all the leaves have been removed. Spoon out inedible fuzzy center at base and discard. The bottom, or heart, is the best and tenderest part. Cut it into small pieces and eat.

Note: To cook just one whole artichoke, microwave on high until easily pierced, 5 to 7 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes.

Artichokes are cooked whole, cut in half, then topped with a colorful avocado and tomato mixture. Or, try a simple buttered crumb topping, also in this column.

ARTICHOKE HALVES WITH TOPPING

2 whole artichokes

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, chopped

1 ripe avocado

2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro (coriander)

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch cayenne pepper, optional

Slice off top 1/2-inch of artichokes to trim the center cluster of leaves; use kitchen scissors to snip off tops of remaining leaves, if desired. Trim bottom stems so that vegetables stand upright.

Put artichokes upright on plate or in flat-bottomed casserole, leaving an inch between artichokes. Add 1/4 cup water. Cover with plastic wrap, vented. Microwave on high (100 percent power) until bottom can be pierced easily with a knife, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating plate every 4 minutes. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes.

Put garlic, oil and tomato in a 4-cup measure. Microwave, uncovered, on high to soften tomatoes and draw out juices, 2 to 3 minutes. Peel, pit, and roughly chop avocado. Stir into tomatoes. Microwave, uncovered, on high to soften and warm avocado, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, stirring once. Stir in cilantro, lime juice, salt and cayenne.

Cut artichokes in half, vertically. Use fingers to pull out small, purple topped leaves from the very center; use spoon to scoop out the fuzzy choke.

Put each half cut side up on serving dish and spoon on topping.

This simple topping - hot melted butter with bread crumbs and lemon juice - is a classic topping for fresh asparagus, a fish fillet or cooked artichoke halves.

HOT BUTTERED CRUMBS

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs

Put butter in a 2-cup microwave-safe measure. Microwave on high (100 percent power) until melted and hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and bread crumbs.

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