Thursday, April 8, 2010
A week ago I saw a nice looking basket of artichokes at the Co-Op, and, on a whim, I bought one. Up until this point, I'd never made anything that started with an actual, whole artichoke. I'd only used jarred or frozen artichoke hearts, and usually the end result was spinach dip, so you couldn't taste the artichokes anyway.
Well this time, I wanted to cook the artichoke as simply as possible, so I decided the simplest way would be to steam it. Then I wanted to eat it leaf by leaf, down to the heart, so I could really appreciate what an artichoke actually tastes like. However, I hadn't the foggiest idea of where to start. After consulting numerous online cooking sites and my trusty How to Cook Everything Cookbook, I learned how to turn this strange looking vegetable into a tasty meal.
If you've never eaten an artichoke before, what you do is peel off the leaves, one at a time, put the base of the leaf between your front teeth and scrape off the tender flesh. Discard the remaining leaf. As you get closer to the center, the leaves get more and more tender. Dipping the leaves in melted butter is standard, though we also tried Yumm sauce (the standard condiment in our house) which was really good as well.
Joe and I started out eating each leaf slowly and thoughtfully, savoring the flavor and complimenting ourselves for trying something new. As we neared the center, we started eating faster and faster, excited for what (we had read) would be the best part, the part that made the whole thing worth eating - the heart. We had to pause briefly after we finished off the leaves in order to scrape out the "choke", i.e, the stringy thistle which you don't want to eat, but what remains after that is totally edible, and totally delicious!
You can also remove the choke before you serve it - just pry open the very innermost leaves and scrape it out with a spoon. Just be sure to let it cool down a bit first.
adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
4 large or 12 small artichokes (or, if you are just experimenting, use one like I did)
Melted butter, lemon wedges, olive oil, and salt for serving (optional: Yumm Sauce!)
First, you want to cut off the stem so it sits flat, leaving about 1/2 an inch or so, then trim about 1/2 an inch off the top. Next, snip the pointed ends of the leaves off with kitchen shears. Rub lemon juice all over the freshly cut surfaces to prevent browning.
Fill a large pot with about 5-6 inches of water and bring it to a boil. I added a handful of thyme sprigs and the rest of my lemon juice to the pot for added flavor (Bittman suggests tarragon, thyme, onion, garlic, lemon juice, or vinegar). Once the steam gets going, turn the heat down a bit, set a steamer basket in the pot, and set the artichoke bottom up in the steamer. Cover and cook for 20-40 minutes. Make sure the water in the pot doesn't dry up.
To check to see if it's done, pull off one of the outer leaves and taste it; the leaf should pull away easily and the flesh should be tender.
Drain upside down for a minute or two if serving hot, or just leave it upside down and let it cool completely if you plan to serve it at room temperature.
Serve hot with melted butter, lemon juice and/or olive oil and salt. He also suggests serving it at room temperature with mayo. Sick...I mean...sure, if you like that sort of thing.