Artichokes are one of those foods where you have to wonder how hungry the first person to eat them must have been. Luckily for the culinary world, they were discovered, and with them may different ways to prepare them.
For the uninitiated, artichokes are winter/spring vegetables in the thistle family. They usually reach the market as mature plants, with baby artichokes being a specialty item. Artichokes should show minimal bruising, no worm holes, and be heavy for their size.
Artichokes have the dubious distinction of being the most difficult food to pair with wine. On the plus side, they’re good for your liver, they’re an amazing antioxidant, and they reduce cholesterol. The quintessential Roman artichoke dish, carciofi alla giudía, is fried young artichokes “Jewish style.” We enjoy them at the end of the main, as a separate course.
Let’s get at all that goodness, shall we?
Artichokes need to be checked carefully for invasive organisms. When soaking, check for bugs and worms by spreading out the leaves, submerging and squeezing the artichoke closed to try and expel anything hiding in the leaf folds. Use a strong vinegar solution in very cold water when soaking. You have been warned.
The base, or heart of the artichoke is deliciously soft, and the ‘goal’ of eating an artichoke. The artichoke is eaten by plucking a leaf from the outside and biting off the small part of the heart at the base of the leaf. Some people (like me) use their teeth to scrape the inside of the leaf, which has the same vegetation. As you work your way towards the center, the leaves will become thinner. The lighter yellow parts of the leaf are completely edible. The immature leaves in the center will have a sharp point and usually be purple-tinged. You can pull off the entire cone of those leaves and discard, or eat the soft bottoms up to the pointy part. The center of the heart is called the “choke” and is inedible.
We enjoy them at the end of the meal, after the main course is finished. They also make a delicious vegetarian main. See my Pesach vegetarian mains recipes for one idea.
Artichokes in the Market
Choose brightly colored artichokes that aren't very bruised and are heavy.
A Whole Artichoke
Start with a whole artichoke.
Remove the Stem
Cut the stem off near the base. You can peel the stalks like asparagus and cook them as well.
Cut the Top Off
With a sharp knife, cut the tips of the leaves off. Cut straight down using a back and forth sawing motion. A serrated blade is preferable.
Peel the Outer Leaves
Break off the tough outer leaves around the outside of the artichoke. The shape should be roughly cylindrical.
Soak the artichoke in acidulated water to keep the cut edges from oxidizing. Check for bugs at this point. Be very thorough.
Cooking the Artichokes
Boil artichokes in rapidly boiling water for 45 minutes to two hours, depending on how soft you like them. Flavor the cooking liquid with salt, lemon juice garlic and vinegar.
Removing the Choke
With a spoon, scoop out the choke at the center of the heart and discard. The heart is then ready to eat.