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Artichokes: there's more to them than a stem and prickly leaves

Vegetables aren't usually thought of as being particularly threatening - but then there's the artichoke. Left alone and given a little time, it will blossom into a beautiful large purple flower. But the uninitiated don't look at this tight bud of a thistle, with its tough Army-green leaves each topped with an intimidating bayonette-sharp point, and think ''delicious''!

E.(Gene) Boggiatto and his wife, Albina, are trying to help more people find their way past the artichoke's prickly armor. They have a way to cook artichokes that sounds amazingly convincing. Gene explains:

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''Albina brought some home from a neighbor which had been done in a microwave oven. They were so wonderful I went out and bought a microwave oven the next day ,'' he said.

The inventive neighbor had placed four trimmed artichokes upside down in a glass pie plate with half an inch of water, the juice of half a lemon, a little salt, and olive oil.

The vegetables are then covered with plastic wrap and placed in the microwave , which is set on high for 15 to 18 minutes.

Many people are happy with steamed or boiled artichokes served with melted butter, mayonnaise, or hollandaise sauce.

Hailing from Castroville, Calif., the ''Artichoke Capital of the World,'' the Boggiattos have over the years managed to raise, cook, and cultivate the prickly bud, and they're now doing their best to make you, me, and the artichoke happy together.

''In Italy,'' Gene says, ''there are 100,000 acres of artichokes. And in restaurants they're as common as peas and carrots. Italians have known since the 15th century that it's worth the effort.''

Americans are learning.

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Some adults may have a difficult time eating the artichoke. But kids love them.

''Children are brought up with parents constantly reminding them, 'Don't eat with your fingers!'' With the artichoke, they can get away with it,'' Gene says.

For a booklet of recipes, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to California Artichoke Advisory Board, PO Box 747, Castroville, Calif. 95012. Artichoke Sunflower 1 large artichoke, cleaned, trimmed, and cooked 1 3-ounce package cream cheese 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon onion powder Paprika 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper seasoning 2 tablespoons milk or cream 1/4 pound cooked small shrimp

Remove all leaves from artichoke. Set aside those firm enough to handle with a good edible portion on the end. Cut heart into quarters.

Blend cream cheese with garlic, onion powder, hot pepper seasoning, and enough milk or cream to make a smooth paste. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Spread filling on top of each reserved leaf. Place a small shrimp on top of filling and dust with paprika.

Arrange leaves in concentric circles on a round tray in the shape of an open sunflower. Place cut artichoke heart in center.

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