Some foods are intimidating. Fresh artichokes, for example.
That's not true everywhere, though. They are very popular in California, where there are endless fields of beautiful artichoke crowns growing as far as the eye can see. In Italy they are sold from carts on street corners and shoppers carry whole fresh artichokes on long stems over their shoulders as they walk on Ligurian village streets.
But in our markets, poor artichokes sit alone decomposing. I feel badly seeing this.
To the inexperienced home cook, they seem like a lot of work for not much return. In reality, it is just the opposite. After boiling the artichoke, you eat the bits of flesh that cling to the leaves. Inside is the artichoke heart and the nutty mellow artichoke bottom.
Most people don't realize that the stem, peeled and boiled, is probably the tastiest part.
Of course you can buy artichoke hearts and bottoms in cans and sometimes frozen. But their flavor can't compare to fresh.
So, get out your knives and pay attention to artichoke preparation 101.
- Bring water to a boil with plenty of salt and a sliced fresh lemon. The lemon prevents the cut artichoke from browning and flavors the water.
- To prepare the artichoke, cut the stem off about 1/2 inch from the base of the artichoke. Reserve the stem you cut off. Cut the very end off and peel the cut-off stem.
- Some of the outside leaves of the artichoke will fall off. Pull off the remaining loose leaves from the edges and cut the top inch from the artichoke as well. Rub top and bottom cut surfaces with a cut fresh lemon and place the artichoke in the boiling water. Cook the artichoke 8 to 10 minutes until a knife inserted in the base pierces easily. The stem pieces can be plunged into boiling water until tender. When cooked, place the artichoke in ice water to stop cooking and preserve the color.
- Now that your artichoke is cooked and tender, the fun begins. Stick your fingers into the center of the cooked artichoke and squeeze the small, fibrous leaves, removing them. You will expose the fuzzy choke, which contains the nettles. Although these are beautiful to look at, you must scrape them out with a spoon, exposing the artichoke bottom. That was a bit of work, but now it's now over, and you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.
- Place the leaves between your teeth and pull to enjoy their delicate flavor. You will get a bit of flesh in your mouth. You also have the cooked stem and artichoke bottom to enjoy.
- You can serve the chokes cold or hot. Serve them with melted butter and lemon or a really good quality extra-virgin olive oil and lemon. You don't have to add much to enhance their natural flavor.
Now that you know how to cook artichokes, here's a favorite recipe of mine, which involves one more step — stuffing. I think it's worth it.
—By Chef Steve Petusevsky