How to make, serve and eat the perfect artichoke

When I worked in the dorms in college, the resident assistants ran a secret pal program. To figure out what types of gifts or encouragements were most appreciated, we filled out personal FAQ sheets. On my list of “favorites,” I included artichokes (along with chocolate, of course). Color me surprised when my secret sister actually spent the entire year delivering scrumptious thistles to my mailbox! Although they top my list of vegetable-like food items, I realized recently that I don’t prepare them too terribly often anymore, probably out of sheer laziness. After eating chokes twice in the last week, I am resolved to change that!

Driving past my favorite fruit stand on the way home from Monterey helped. In my childhood mind, Casa de Fruta is still the fruit stand where we’d occasionally stop to buy the most fragrant and juicy strawberries and cherries in the world. In reality, it’s a produce complex with a grocery/gift store, deli, restaurant, wine tasting shop, carousel, park and more. I think I even saw a “haunted tunnel,” although I didn’t investigate. Casa de Fruta, you have come along way!

I got overwhelmed picking out snacks and I didn’t take any inside pictures. Imagine rows and rows of produce and goodies!

After picking up some scrumptious dried apricots, pepitas, pickled Gilroy garlic and habanero peppers, a gift for the best dog watchers on earth, and of course, artichokes, we headed home. I got to thinking, a lot of people I know have never tried the chokes. Let me demystify the process for you! You won’t be sorry either. Not only do they taste amazing (yes, amazing), they’re good for yah. According to the California Artichoke Board (yes, we have one of those), artichokes are an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, fiber and antioxidants. Apparently they have more antioxidants than chocolate or wine. Who knew?

NSFD Ranking: *-** (depends on how much butter you add!)

Step 1. Choose artichokes. Choose good looking green ones that don’t appear dehydrated. According to the Artichoke Board, splotches or white patches are okay. Some connoisseurs contend that white patches indicate a “frost kiss” which is supposed to make them taste even better.

2. Wash and Prep. Give ’em a good rinse and lightly brush if you have a soft vegetable brush handy. Slice the stems off like so, although I learned that the stem is just a continuation of the heart. So, if you’re a heart fanatic like me, you might invest in the long-stemmed chokes and opt not to slice. Of course, short stems allow the thistles to sit nicely on a plate.

3. Trim. With a sharp knife, trim an inch or so off the top. I follow up by cutting the thorns off as well, although they usually soften up during cooking. But, it’s habit and I can’t stop myself. Sorry. Gently spread the leaves outwork and loosen up the artichoke. This is particularly important if you’re cooking with spices or grilling so that your flavors can work all the way through.

4. Steam. I used to boil the crap out of my artichokes and I found they more often than not got water logged. Doesn’t change the deliciousness too terribly much, but I’m now a devout steamer. In a large steamer pot, boil a couple inches of water. (Make sure you have enough water in the pan because they will steam for 35 minutes or so) Place artichokes tops-down in the steamer and let cook for 30-35 minutes, depending on size. Chokes are done when you can pull leaves off easily or stick a knife through the heart without trouble (whoa, I bet you didn’t expect such a dramatic sentence in relation to artichokes).

5. Serve. Although there is contention in the artichoke community about the proper accoutrement for serving, I am a strong melted-butter proponent. I typically melt a couple tablespoons of butter for dipping, sprinkle some salt, and call it a day. Some people use mayonnaise, but they’re weird and I don’t recommend it. (Sorry mayo fans!) Others, and I would love to try this some day, do steaming and then pop the cooked artichokes on the grill for a few minutes.

6. Eat! To eat an artichoke, you simple pull off the petals one by one, dip in butter (or whatever) and use your teeth to scrape off the “meat.” (This is a highly civilized meal, fyi). The tricky part comes when you get down to the heart and the leaves get real small like and then you reach a bunch of hairy matter. That’s technically the choke, and you must conquer it in order to get to the best part–the heart!

Some folks slice ’em sideways like this and grill. It works! Photo credit.

After you’ve eaten all of the reasonable sized leaves, pull off the baby ones, and use a spoon to scrape off the hairy choke fibers. Do a good job of this because they feel quite strange on the tongue. You’ll be left with a round disk of deliciousness, the heart. Cut up, dip in butter and savor the flavors (wow, the rhyming). If you’re one of the weirdos who doesn’t like the heart (Umm, Emily!), send ’em my way.

7. Other considerations. As you might have guessed with the butter dipping and meat-scraping, artichokes are not necessarily first date food. They’re also pretty messy sometimes what with all the leaves flying, so I advocate having a large scrap bowl to toss petals and chokes. Oh and lots of napkins.

Enjoy!

xoxo,
shawna

P/S If the artichoke is large enough, it can be its own meal, but I find it works well as a side dish for roasted chicken or steak.

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