Getting To The Heart of The Artichoke

Look closer.

That came from nature. The tough outer leaves, the bulbous shape, the furry choke, the tender heart—I am in awe of the artichoke for all these things.  I love to eat artichokes because they’re so versatile: steamed, stuffed, fried, braised, sautéed, with chicken or pasta or in a risotto.  Oh! I’m forgetting roasted, grilled, and marinated (the hearts, of course).

One of the reasons I look forward to fresh artichokes every spring is that I don’t cook them. Few foods inspire such anxiety in me as the artichoke.

It’ll be too hard, I think. They turn brown too fast. All that peeling! What if I don’t remove the choke correctly and I end up choking? Or worse, what if my terrible choke-removing results in a gasping dinner guest? Or boyfriend?  Yikes.  It’s so pretty, I don’t want to cut it wrong. How would I cook it? What if I overcook it?  Oh, look! There’s a zucchini. I’ll just cook that.

So goes my thinking process whenever I am faced with an artichoke in the grocery store. Well, no longer.  After going to six gourmet grocery stores in Manhattan on Friday evening and coming up empty on baby artichokes, Saturday I found myself a beautiful, round and full globe artichoke at Trader Joe’s for $1.29.   It was time to consult the interwebs, cookbooks and magazines about proper care and preparation.  I was already settled on cooking method—steaming—a simple and straightforward approach that would really showcase the gentle sweetness of the artichoke, and also how fun it is to pull apart and eat leaf by leaf. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil helps.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Our story begins with one medium-large artichoke.

Prepare a bowl of cold, acidulated water. In English, this means get a bowl of cold water, then cut a lemon in quarters, squeeze some juice into the water, and drop the lemon pieces in the bowl.

Using a serrated knife (and yes, a bread knife will do), saw about an inch off the top of the artichoke. Then, remove the tough outer leaves along the stem.

Next, rub one of the lemon pieces all over the artichoke.  (This and the lemon water are essential since artichokes are super-sensitive to browning. And we don’t want brown veggies.) Get a pair of kitchen shears and cut about a quarter inch off the top of each of the exposed leaves. Rub the artichoke again with the lemon.

Using a paring knife, peel the stem. The outer layer is thick, so make sure you remove it completely.

Next, use a big, strong and especially sharp knife to cut the artichoke in half.  Put one half of the artichoke into the bowl of lemon-water. Take a piece of lemon and rub it all over the half you’re working with.

Moment of truth: time to remove the choke. I know it doesn’t look very threatening. It looks soft and furry, not sharp and thorny.  But you have to remove the choke, and it’s better to do it before you cook the artichoke.

So, grab a ginger peeler, or in the absence of the ginger peeler, a spoon and paring knife will do. Trace along the edge of the fur, scooping out the furry bits and scraping along the flesh so that none are left.  You will be left with a vacancy in the middle of your artichoke, like so:

Put the cleaned half in the water, and repeat the choke-removing process with the other half.

Once both halves are cleaned and resting happily in the lemon-water, get a medium saucepan (about 3 quarts or more).  Put in some cold water, about an inch high in the pot, and add a smashed garlic clove. Set the steamer basket in the pot, cover, and turn the heat to medium-high.  When the water boils, transfer your artichokes from the lemon water to the steamer basket and cover the pot immediately. Steam for 30 minutes, checking on the artichoke halves periodically to make sure there’s still some water in the pot.  You’ll know they’re done when the centers are pierced easily with the tip of a knife.

Remove the artichoke carefully from the steamer basket and transfer to a plate.  You can do what I did—sprinkle some kosher salt on it & then drizzle with olive oil. Or, you could go with my boyfriend’s preferred drizzling solution: melted butter.

To eat, scrape the flesh off the leaves with your teeth, discarding the tough part of the leaves.  You can eat the whole heart and the stem.  Savor them, and you’ll taste spring.

2 thoughts on “Getting To The Heart of The Artichoke

  1. Thanks for the tutorial! I love steamed/stuffed/herbed/marinated/you-name-it artichokes, but have yet to perfect my cooking strategies for them. You make it look so easy! Great pictures. 🙂

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