They’re in season, so why not take advantage of this abundance? Besides, I’ve had enough people ask me, “How do you clean an artichoke?” and “What can I make with an artichoke?” that I finally took the hint. So here’s to a week of celebrating the ‘choke!
I didn’t grow up eating artichokes; you probably had to live in California for that to happen. Jeff introduced me to the joys of dipping a leaf in garlicky mayonnaise and scraping the meat off with my teeth. He also tried to teach me to artfully arrange my spent leafs on the plate as he had been taught by a very prissy Protestant lady, but that’s just not my hedonist style. Fast forward to Italy and I’m living in “carcofi “central... all shapes, sizes and colors of artichokes show up in the market in the spring and fall.
The most prevalent variety in the US is the large globe artichoke, although now and then you can find the smaller varieties. Saveur Magazine has an excellent gallery of photos of the different varieties, but regardless of variety, the basics of cleaning and prepping remain the same.
What is an artichoke? It’s part of the thistle family thought to have been cultivated from wild cardoons. The edible part is the flower head. Pay attention: I said thistle...and that means thorns, so you will get pricked at some point when you play with artichokes.
However, here is the real story of the artichoke. One day, Zeus was visiting his brother Poseidon, when he saw the gorgeous young Cynara and being a randy old god, he promptly seduced her. He did right by her though; he married her, and made her an immortal goddess. (And you thought Kate Middleton was lucky? Ha!, She only gets to be a princess.) Cynara got a little bored one day, and snuck home to see her mother, which thoroughly pissed off Zeus, who may have been feeling a little jealous that day. He promptly turned her into an artichoke plant, and she grew the thorns to repel the nasty old god. You can draw your own conclusions.
How To Buy An Artichoke:
Look for a tightly closed, firm head. The outer leaves should feel firm and juicy, not dry and hard. If you can buy artichokes with their stem still attached, that’s a bonus because the steamed stem is delicious. A little bit of discoloration on the outer leaves is OK; a lot of discoloration could mean it’s rotten on the inside.
How To Clean an Artichoke:
You’ll need a sharp paring knife, a cut lemon and a bowl of acidulated water (either lemon juice or a splash of vinegar).
Remove the tough outer leaves; keep removing the leaves until you reach the layer where the petals feel tender. You will remove up to a third or a half of the artichoke, so don’t be alarmed at the amount of waste.
Remove the pointy, thorny tips of the leaves by taking your knife, and at a 45 degree angle, press down and slice off the tip. Done properly, you can make your artichoke looks like a crown. If it doesn’t, don’t worry, better luck next time.
If the artichoke is young, small and tender (and who doesn’t love young, small and tender??) you can eat it raw, or cook it whole. If the artichoke is a little bigger, you may want to remove the interior, hairy choke and the prickly interior leaves surrounding the choke. (The little hairy bit is called the ‘choke’, aptly named.)
Cut the artichoke in half, carefully run the blade between the bottom of the hairy choke and the bottom of the heart. Lift it out and discard. Rub all of the cut, exposed areas of the artichoke with lemon to prevent discoloration.
Keep the cleaned artichokes in a bowl of acidulated water after they are cleaned.
Artichokes can be used to make a natural yellow-green dye. This means they may discolor your hands. If you are cleaning a load of them or don’t want dyed hands, a pair of latex gloves will do the trick.
Easiest Ways to Eat an Artichoke
Raw Artichoke Salad: The artichokes must be young, small and tender, like the virginal Cynara herself. Clean the artichoke, removing the hairy choke heart and thinly slice paper thin. Dress with extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper and shaved parmigiana cheese.
Steamed Globe Artichoke: Clean the outer leaves of the choke but don’t remove the heart. Steam in salted lemon water until tender, approximately 25-35 minutes. Serve warm with a dipping sauce of garlic mayonnaise. Or try it Roman ‘pizzimento’ style, which is a small bowl of olive oil, splash of vinegar and salt and pepper for dipping.
Tommorow: Braised Artichokes