Artichokes: Tips + Tales + Recipes
How to buy them: Look for compact artichokes that feel heavy for their size. You want the leaves to be tight and the stem to look full and healthy, not dry and shriveled. And there are those who say that you can tell that an artichoke is good if, when you rub it, the leaves squeak. I think it’s true, but any time your food talks to you, I want it to be true.
How to clean them and get them ready for cooking/serving: There’s a beautiful set of illustrationsat the end of the Journal story. The pictures will show you how to prepare a Globe artichoke for boiling or steaming, so that you can serve it whole. If you want to get to the heart, keep peeling away the leaves until you get to the very tender, pale, yellow-green leaves. Cut the artichoke in half from top to bottom and spoon or cut out the fuzzy choke. You can leave the artichoke like this, or you can trim away all of the leaves until you’re left with the meaty bottom. Whatever you do, every time you cut an artichoke, rub the cut with a lemon or dunk the artichoke into a bowl of lemon-water: the acid keeps the artichokes from blackening.
Another way to dechoke them: If you’ve boiled or steamed the artichokes, this is the easiest way imaginable to remove the prickly center leaves and get to the choke. The tip comes from my friend, John Bennett, he of the giant gougeres. When the cooked artichokes are just cool enough for you to handle, hold them by the base and run cold water into the center. The artichoke leaves will open wide, like a flower in full bloom, and you can reach in and pluck out the center leaves. After that, all that’s left is to scrape out the choke.
How to eat them: Faced with a whole artichoke, roll up your sleeves and get ready to eat with your fingers. There’s no other way. Trust me, if there was, the French would have discovered it and they haven’t. They eat every few foods with their fingers, but that’s how they eat artichokes. Starting with the leaves closest to the base, pull off a leaf, dip it in sauce — sauce is usually a vinaigrette or a mayonnaise-type sauce — use your teeth to scrape off the flesh at the stubby end of the leaf; discard the leaf and keep going. When you get to the tenderest leaves, you can eat more of the leaf; in some cases, the whole leaf. If your host hasn’t removed the choke — shame, shame, host — scrape it away with a knife. Now, all that’s left is the bottom: cut it into pieces and eat with a knife and fork. Finger bowls with lemon and water are nice at this point.
A friend’s artichoke tale:
A friend of mine, after reading the artichoke story, sent the following: "Driving down the Central Coast of California on a sun-baked afternoon many years ago, my delight at seeing fields of artichokes on the stalk amused my traveling companion so much he bought me a pair of embossed Majolica plates designed to cradle both globe artichokes and their sauce." No, she didn’t marry the guy, but she told me that she still has the plates. And it reminded me of another joy of artichokes — the possibility to shop for artichoke-specific dishes. These are dishes that have an indentation for the artichoke, another for the sauce and space for your discarded leaves.
The Wall Street Journal story includes 5 recipes: a recipe for Grilled Fish with Artichoke Caponata,from Michael White, the chef at Marea in NYC (I’ve made the caponata a few times now – I love it over pasta); Artichoke, Dandelion and Pecorino Salad with Mandarin Dressing, from David Kinch, the chef at Manresa in Los Gatos, California; Baby Artichokes, Asparagus and Potatoes with Herb Mayonnaise, from Chris Israel, chef at Gruner in Portland, Oregon; and these Marinated Artichoke Hearts from Patricia Wells‘s almost-out (but now pre-orderable) book, Salad As A Meal. I can’t wait to see it! There was one other really good, really simple recipe, but there wasn’t room for it, so here it is. Think of it as a delicious bonus.
RAW ARTICHOKE AND PARMESAN SALAD
Adapted from Chef Laura Zavan for the Cafe Salle Pleyel, Paris
10 baby artichokes
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch parsley, leaves only, chopped
Fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper
5 ounces Parmesan, shaved
Squeeze the juice of 2 lemons into a bowl of cold water and keep nearby.
Working with one artichoke at a time, cut off the stem. Slice off the top inch of each artichoke and pull off the toughest leaves. As you finish trimming each artichoke, drop it into the lemon water.
Mix the olive oil with the juice of 1/2 lemon and the parsley; season with salt and pepper. Taste and add more lemon juice, if you’d like.
Using a mandoline or a knife, cut the artichokes into very thin slices and arrange on a platter. Toss with dressing and finish with Parmesan shavings.