EXCERPTS FROM THE CARNIVORE’S A-Z OF VEGETABLES

THE ARTICHOKE

I WENT to someone’s house once after disparaging the artichoke to discover that she was going to prove me wrong by stuffing one with mincemeat. There is no more ridiculous thing in the world than a stuffed artichoke. There’s nothing to ‘stuff’ for chrissake. It looked like she’d thrown minced meat at the top of a pineapple and hoped some of it stuck. Call me old-fashioned but if you are going to stuff something doesn’t it need a HOLE? You might just as well try to stuff a bunch of daisies.

The globe artichoke, by the way, is not even really a vegetable, it’s a thistle. And a tasteless one at that. This is why people stuff them or boil them before dipping the leaves in mayonnaise or garlic butter or, I dunno, dirt. It is the tofu of vegetables.

Pliny the Elder called them “monstrosities of the earth” and moaned about the high prices they fetched at Roman markets, while Henry VIII was fond of them because they are, supposedly, an aphrodisiac. Yeah sure; only if you beat her senseless with it first.

Here’s some information from www.soupsong.com that should tell you something important about the artichoke: “Artichokes were first introduced to America by French colonists who settled in Louisiana in the early 1700s – but they didn’t catch on. Then Thomas Jefferson brought artichokes back to Monticello from Italy – but they still didn’t catch on.”

They didn’t catch on, they didn’t catch on … THEY DIDN’T CATCH ON! Did nobody see a pattern forming here? There was a reason for this. Goethe hated them, and in 1935 New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia quite rightly banned the sale, display and possession of artichokes in response to artificially high, Mob-driven prices.

The price plummeted and the ban was lifted, sadly, after less than a week. An opportunity missed, if you ask me.

The only good thing the artichoke has ever given the world happened in 1947 when, at the Artichoke Festival in Castroville, California, one Norma Jean Baker was crowned Miss California Artichoke Queen. Thus was the future Marilyn Monroe launched on the world, riding an artichoke … to oblivion.

THE ASPARAGUS

THE asparagus is your friend. It’s easy to cook, tastes good enough to be eaten tout seul though it works just as well with bacon or pancetta and, best of all, it makes your urine smell of gas. How cool is that?

Though you have to wonder at French writer Marcel Proust, who wrote: “Asparagus … transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.” Luckily that’s all he wrote on the subject; if the whiff of a madeleine set him off for 1.5 million words imagine where the pong of asparagus-laced urine might have taken him.

The asparagus is cholesterol-free and low in calories and sodium. It is also a good source of all sorts of other good stuff such as vitamins and folic acid and the like. And did I mention that it makes your wee smell of sulphur?

Here’s a thing, though. Some tests have shown that while most people produce the sulphurous smell after eating asparagus only about 22% of them have the genes required to notice it. You poor, poor people.

THE AUBERGINE

THERE is actually a website (www.aubergines.org) featuring eggplant art, eggplant clipart, eggplant dishes and eggplant ‘stuff’ such as pictures of eggplant tins, jars and cartoons. There are also “3116 eggplant recipes and counting”. You can even read about the “amazing adventures of Aubergine the flying eggplant” on a website that will remain anonymous on grounds of good taste.

These people are certifiably mad. The eggplant is good for only two things: throwing at passers-by or and inserting into people you hate.

It’s not even a vegetable really as it’s classified botanically as a berry. Yup, it’s the world’s biggest strawberry. Worse, it will give you cancer. According to wikipedia the aubergine is “richer in nicotine than any other edible plant”. Eat 9kg of it and it’s the equivalent of smoking one cigarette. Or 42kg of laxatives, I would imagine. So it’ll do your lungs in but probably give your bottom a good workout.

The thing about the eggplant is that, as attractive as it might be raw, it turns into a dripping, slimy limp miasma when cooked. It ends up looking like it should be slumped over a clock in a Salvador Dali painting.

The only time I have ever managed to enjoy it has been at the now defunct Snakebean cafe in Sydney’s Oxford Street, where co-owner Jeremy McNamara – against my better judgment – persuaded us to order chef Nhut Huynh’s roast eggplant mash with spicy chicken. Sublime doesn’t do it justice. This is the ONLY thing you should do with eggplant. Sod 3116 recipes; roast it, mash it and serve with spicy chicken.

Here’s a thing: the Institute of Biology of São Paulo State University says eggplant is effective in the treatment of high blood cholesterol. The Heart Institute of the University of São Paulo says it isn’t. See? Completely useless.

THE ZUCCHINI

LET’S be honest, in a blind taste test you’d never guess a zucchini; it’s just too bland, too boring. This is one of those vegetables that would always be picked last for the football team. It also shares the aubergine’s fate in that even light cooking turns it into a glutinous mush. Still, it is marvellous if you (a) like eating slugs, (b) have no teeth, and (c) are playing Scrabble (24, if you must know).

Perhaps the most famous dish that contains the zucchini is ratatouille, which comes from the Occitan word ratatolha. Which, roughly translated, means ‘cheap and nasty stewed vegetable dish from which the zucchini can be omitted with no discernible difference in taste’. Something along those lines anyway.

The zucchini, though, is a crafty vegetable and will, if you are not careful, try to slip past your defences by disguising itself as a courgette. Be on your guard.

On the plus side it has very few calories and is very useful if you are deficient in manganese as half a cup of it contains 19% of the recommended daily intake.

And just as the artichoke is a thistle and the aubergine is a berry, the zucchini isn’t really a vegetable either, it’s an immature fruit. Not only that but it is in reality – brace yourself – the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower. That would explain the mushy texture, I suppose.

Seriously, take this test: enter ‘swollen ovary’ into Google, hit ‘search’, and 0.14 seconds later you will have more than 1m results to deal with – and not one of them will be a recipe.

I rest my case.

 

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