If artichokes have historically intimidated you, this is the season to overcome that trepidation. Artichokes are at their best right now, and they’re less fuss to prepare than you think. Cooking them in lemon water (rather than plunging the cut ones into acidulated water to stop browning, then cooking them in something else) cuts down on the hassle. Not to say that they’re not some fuss, but it’s not that bad for cooking a thistle. I made some this past weekend for myself and Michael’s folks, along with a slightly-thicker version of the Lemon-Caper Sauce I made recently, and it was terrific. They’re low in calories, too – about 90 per artichoke, but that’s presuming that you eat them without any mayonnaise involved.
I have been told that my paternal grandmother held at least one artichoke party in which she instructed the guests in the eating procedure. I’ll include that below as well.
For the artichokes:
4 large artichokes
1 large lemon
2-3 bay leaves
about 10 peppercorns
salt salt salt
Wash the artichokes under cold water. They’re usually pretty clean. Drain them and set them aside. Select a pot large enough to hold all four artichokes. Fill it with enough water to cover them. Place it on the stove and turn the burner to high heat. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze the halves into the water, and drop both halves into the pot. Add the bay leaves and the peppercorns. Turn back to the artichokes, but don’t forget to salt the water when it comes to a boil.
Returning to the artichokes: select one. Snap off any sad-looking leaves around the bottom half of the artichoke. Now pick up your kitchen shears. If you have no kitchen shears, find a strong pair of scissors and wash them. With shears in hand, clip off the tops of the outside leaves so they are flat all the way across. This is not mandatory, but it will cause you to get poked in the finger less while eating. Once you’ve clipped the tops of the exposed leaves on the sides of the choke, take a sturdy knife in hand and lop off the pointy top part of its crown. If there is a stem, leave it (I usually find them perfectly edible – it’s worth a shot) and just take a slice off the bottom of the stem if it’s dirty. Swiftly, into the pot with that artichoke! Trim each of them in turn, and when the water comes to a boil, salt it generously. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, when a leaf should come off freely when tugged. If it doesn’t, give them a little more time. When tender, drain the artichokes stem up for a few minutes, then serve hot or chilled.
To eat, (there are still plenty of folks out there not versed in this process) pull leaves from the choke, starting from the inside, dip them in sauce, if you care to, and scrape the meat from the leaf off with your teeth. Repeat. When you reach the middle of the globe, you’ll see a flat cluster of pinkish leaves that may all come up at once when you pull them. Below that is the prickly, fibrous choke. Take up your knife and cut the choke away with a shallow cone-shaped cut around the entire vegetable. What’s left is the heart, (and the stem if there was one) which is the Best Part.