"Eat locally, eat seasonally.” A simple slogan that is backed up by science and by taste. The farther away from the market something is grown, the longer it must spend getting to us, and what eventually arrives will be less than satisfying. Although we can enjoy a bounty of produce year-round -- apples in June, tomatoes in December, peaches in January -- most of it is lacking in flavor. In order to select wisely, we need to know more. Where and how was the head of lettuce grown? When was it picked and how was it stored? How do you tell if a melon is really ripe? Which corn is sweeter, white or yellow?
Russ Parsons provides the answers to these questions and many others in this indispensable guide to common fruits and vegetables, from asparagus to zucchini. He offers valuable tips on selecting, storing, and preparing produce, along with one hundred delicious recipes. Parsons delivers an entertaining and informative reading experience that is guaranteed to help put better food on the table.
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RUSS PARSONS is the food and wine columnist of the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of the best-selling How to Read a French Fry, a winner of multiple James Beard Awards for his journalism, and the recipient of the IACP/Bert Greene Award for distinguished writing. He lives in California, which produces more than half of the fruits and vegetables grown in this country. He has been writing about food and agriculture for more than twenty years.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Artichokes Alexander Pope wrote that it was a brave man who first ate an oyster. What possible words can describe the heroism of he who first ate an artichoke? Not only did he have to consume it, but he probably had to invent it as well. At first glance — and maybe even after patient consideration — little about the artichoke indicates either edibility or conscious creation. The thing looks more like a primitive instrument of war than a domesticated product of agriculture. With its overlapping rows of hard prickly petals, it seems only one step removed from a stick with a nail stuck in it. Yet somehow, sometime, someone almost certainly did create the artichoke. Exactly how, when and who are unclear. Obviously, it happened well before anyone thought to copyright a plant, or even to write a scientific paper claiming academic bragging rights. But there is little doubt that the artichoke was invented.
The vegetable that we call an artichoke is actually the unopened flower bud of a plant that is an improved cardoon. (My colleague Charles Perry says the word “artichoke” is derived from the Arabic al’qarshuf, which translates as “little cardoon.”) If you visit ethnic produce markets — particularly Italian ones — you may have seen a cardoon. It looks like a prehistoric stalk of celery. It is outsize and a pale dinosaur gray-green with a thick, stringy skin. Peel it, chop it and cook it, and you’ll taste artichoke.
Why did our unnamed farmer decide that the bud of the cardoon was more desirable than the stalk? Is that even what he was going for? Did he really think he had accomplished his goal, or did he simply give up? There is something haphazard, even accidental, about the artichoke. One thing’s for certain: no modern plant breeder would dare to come up with something like it. More’s the pity. The artichoke is one of spring’s great vegetables, with a buttery texture and an appealing flavor — an almost brassy sweetness that combines well with a multitude of other ingredients.
But there’s no getting around it, the artichoke is a peculiar vegetable. First, of course, there is its form — like a thistle-covered mace. The edible part of the artichoke is an unopened flower bud, or, more accurately, a collection of flower buds. If it is left to open, the artichoke will turn almost inside out, blossoming into something that looks like a flat pincushion stuck with hundreds of tiny lavender-blue flowers. It is attractive in its own gargantuan way, and fully opened artichoke flowers are sometimes used by avantgarde florists to make visual statements in arrangements. The sharp, tough “petals” or “leaves” of the artichoke are what botanists call bracts, which are actually somewhere between the two. Bracts are tough, leaflike objects that protect the flower.
But the artichoke’s contrariness is more than skin-deep. In fact, peel an artichoke and set it aside for a minute, and you’ll soon discover another of its eccentricities. Exposed to air, artichokes turn brown or even black. This is not altogether unusual in itself — potatoes do the same thing, and so do peaches and shrimp, among many diverse foods.
The process is what chemists call enzymatic browning. The plant contains a substance that when exposed to oxygen changes the color of the flesh. This is not always bad. All tea would be green if it were not for enzymatic browning. In the case of artichokes, though, it’s hard to see the benefit, at least for the cook. But whereas it is almost impossible to prevent enzymatic browning, we can delay it fairly easily, either by preventing exposure to oxygen or by treating the flesh with an acidic compound. Neither of these takes any special equipment, just a bowl filled with acidulated water — plain old tap water to which you’ve added an acid of some sort (white vinegar and lemon juice work equally well). When you’re done, keep the artichokes in the water until you’re ready to cook them. Oldtime chefs used to call for cooking artichokes en blanc — in a combination of water, acid and flour. This only slightly improved the color and pretty much wrecked the flavor for anything other than serving them as glorified chips and dip. You’re better off settling for only minimal browning.
Another odd thing about the artichoke is its tendency to make everything taste sweeter — not in a good way, but that weird metallic kind of sweet you get from diet soft drinks. This is mostly caused by a naturally occurring chemical called cynarin (artichokes belong to the genus Cynara), which is unique to artichokes. This sweet reaction can be so powerful that it is almost off-putting. Sometimes the flavor is so strong that even a sip of water tastes as if it has been artificially sweetened. It is noo surprise that this sweetening makes artichokes extremely unfriendly to wine. It can be reduced by extended cooking, which resulllllts in a gentler, more complex flavor. Remember that when you’re thinking about a dish: Cook artichokes briefly, and they will have a big, brassy edge that can stand up to the most aggressive seasonings — anchovies, garlic, black olives . . . bring ’em all on. Cook the vegetable more gently, and you’ll be surprised at its delicacy.
Unlike most vegetables, which can be harvested only during a single season, artichokes actually bear twice. There is a large harvest in the spring — March to May accounts for about 70 percent of the total crop — and then a smaller one in late fall. Some connoisseurs claim to be able to detect a difference between spring and fall harvests, but if there is one, it is incredibly slight.
And, as if these weren’t enough oddities for one plant, the artichoke comes in many different sizes. In season the so-called baby artichokes can be one of the best buys in the produce department. These are actually fully mature chokes that are harvested from exactly the same plants as the big boys at exactly the same time. An artichoke plant sends up many flower stalks, some as tall as six feet. One or two of them will yield the large, steamer-size buds (weighing a pound or more apiece). Maybe half a dozen of them will be medium-size chokes (two or three to a pound). And then there will be a scad of smaller ones (roughly a dozen to a pound). Because most shoppers are interested in artichokes only for steaming, these smaller ones are tough to sell. Most of them go to canning, but many of them wind up in the produce aisle, where they’re sold cheap to savvy cooks who know their true value.
_ WHERE THEY’RE GROWN: Almost all of the artichokes in the United States are grown in California, most of them within fifteen miles of a small town called Castroville. There have been recurring efforts to expand the plantings to other areas in order to expand the season, but they have met with only mixed success.
HOW TO CHOOSE: Artichokes are one of the tougher vegetables; they’ll last quite a while with only minimal care. Still, choose the ones that seem heaviest for their size and that don’t have any visible damage. You don’t have to be too picky about this: the cut stems will, of course, be blackened already. And if there are a few dark spots, they won’t affect the flavor. The industry has come up with the marketing term “frost-kissed” for this kind of damage and claims that it makes the hearts sweeter. Perhaps, but it certainly doesn’t hurt them any. You can tell really fresh artichokes because their leaves will squeak when you rub them together.
HOW TO STORE: Keep artichokes in the refrigerator, tightly sealed. Don’t clean them until shortly before you’re ready to cook them.
HOW TO PREPARE: The big “hubcap” artichokes that sell at such a premium price should be steamed, boiled or microwaved.
You can eat them leaves and all. To clean them, cut the stem off flush with the bottom so the artichoke will sit upright on a flat surface. Tear off the tough outer ring of leaves, bending them back from the choke until they snap. Then pull down — this will tear away the worst of the tough, stringy outside. Use sharp kitchen scissors to cut away the top third of each leaf — the spiny part. Rub the cut surfaces with lemon. Steam the artichoke until it is tender.
Exactly how long you need to cook it will depend on the size and the age of the artichoke — figure anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.
The artichoke is done when you can easily pull a leaf free. I like to remove the bristly heart before serving. To do this, spread the top center leaves as wide as possible without breaking them, then use a serrated grapefruit spoon to dig out the choke.
ONE SIMPLE DISH: The best way to prepare artichokes is by braising. This method is remarkably easy and flexible.
Here’s the general outline: Put 2 pounds of artichokes that you’ve trimmed well in a large skillet with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, ? cup of water and a minced garlic clove. If you like, add some red pepper flakes. Cover the skillet and let simmer over medium heat until the artichokes are tender, about 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high, remove the lid and cook the artichokes until most of the moisture has evaporated and what remains has emulsified with the oil. Toss the artichokes in this glaze and serve immediately.
HOW TO PARE AN ARTICHOKE You prepare artichokes for cooking differently from when you are planning to stem them and eat the leaves. The goal is to wind up with just the edible parts — the softer inner leaves, heart and stem.
You can do this by tearing away the outer leaves by hand, but the following method is much faster. Since you’ll usually be paring at least half a dozen for most recipes, this is a technique worth learning.
TO BEGIN, have a large bowl at ...
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Book Description Mariner Books 2008-05-01, 2008. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 0547053800. Bookseller Inventory # Z0547053800ZN
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Book Description Mariner Books, 2008. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: The Vegetables and Fruits Alphabetically xi The Recipes by Category xiii Introduction 1 The Plant Designers: Factories in the Field 21 Spring Artichokes 35 Asparagus 47 Onions, Leeks and Garlic 59 Peas and Fava Beans 74 Salad Greens 86 Strawberries 101 Big Farmers, Small Farmers: The Cost of Compromise 113 Summer Corn 129 Cucumbers 140 Eggplants 146 Green Beans 154 Summer Squash 160 Tomatoes 169 Cherries 181 Grapes 190 Melons 198 Peaches and Nectarines 209 Plums 218 Growers and Global Competition: Reinventing the Tomato 223 Fall Broccoli and Cauliflower 235 Mushrooms 248 Peppers 256 Winter Squash 267 Apples 279 Pears, Asian Pears and Quinces 288 Persimmons and Figs 304 Market Corrections: The Return of the Small Farmer 311 Winter Cabbages and Brussels Sprouts 321 Cooking Greens 330 Potatoes 339 Root Vegetables 349 Lemons and Limes 364 Mandarins (Tangerines), Grapefruits and Pummelos 376 Oranges 384 Index 394. Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_0547053800
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