To stay patient while tearing off each leaf one at a time, layer by layer, with just a little bit of flesh stolen from the heart to dip in butter and scrape off with my front teeth to remind me that this process will pay off in the end. To finally remove those flimsy, pale inner petals that only serve to prick my fingers and slow me down as I get closer to the reason for disassembling this odd edible in the first place. The anticipation building as I finally – eventually – get to the core of the thing. Then, buttery flavors dance across my tongue while pleasantly coating my mouth (or perhaps that’s the melted butter…) as I take my first bite into the firm yet tender heart of the artichoke. An artichoke experience.
Happily, it’s artichoke season.
Artichokes as we know them are actually the flower buds of a type of thistle. According to Wikipedia, artichokes probably hail from North Africa. They are low in calories and fat and provide decent amounts of fiber and protein for possessing relatively little edible portions overall.
I’ve eaten artichoke hearts grilled. Marinated. Breaded and fried in the Italian Jewish style. And boiled in the classical this-is-how-my-mama-made-them style. So, not surprisingly, boiled is the way I most often prepare them, because it’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require any special equipment outside of a sharp knife and a pot.
Artichokes can be prepared for cooking in several ways. They can be boiled or steamed whole, or cut in half. Some of the outer leaves and inner fuzz can be removed prior to cooking or left to deal with afterward. The stem can be removed, peeled, or left whole. The choice is yours. Here’s how I make mine:
Boiled Artichoke Halves with Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce
1 lemon, whole and cut in half, preferably organic
4-5 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/2 – 1 full-size Globe artichokes per person
Lemons for juicing
1. In a pot big enough to accommodate the artichokes you will cook, fill most of the way with cold water. Squeeze the juice from the lemon halves into the water, then add the lemons, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Set aside.
2. Chop the top 1/4 to 1/3 of the artichoke leaves off and discard.
3. Remove a layer of the outermost leaves along the base of the stem. Then, trim the stem of the artichoke if you are planning on eating it: Using a paring knife, cut off the end of the stem. Then cut the outer skin from the stem towards the heart. After rotating through to reach all of the skin, cut a shallow circle around the base of the heart to disconnect the skin from the stem. If you do not plan on eating the stem, just cut it off at the base of the heart. The skin of the stem is extremely fibrous and tough, and if left unpeeled will not make for pleasant eating.
4. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. Using a table-teaspoon or a grapefruit spoon, scoop out the fuzzy area in between the soft pale inner leaves and the flat heart. Discard these bits. (You could also just cook it whole and deal with the fuzzy area when you expose the heart after eating the leaves, but I found it annoying to have to stop eating and carve out the center in the middle of dinner.)
5. Add artichokes to the prepared pan of lemon-water. You can choose to cover the pot or leave it uncovered (I’m usually too impatient to keep the cover off, although boiling with the lid on can trap unpleasant flavors released by green vegetables when heat is applied). Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. The artichokes are done when you can easily slip a sharp knife through the heart and they dull in color; this takes about 15-25 minutes in my experience, depending on the size of the artichokes.
Note: The exposed heart will brown extremely quickly when exposed to air. To avoid this, add them to the reserved prepared pot of lemon water as soon as you finish trimming each piece. The acid from the lemon will keep them from browning. If you are preparing these ahead and will cook them very soon, put them in a bowl of lemon water and refrigerate before use; just don’t keep them soaking too long or the artichokes may take on extra water and their texture will be off when cooked. If you are going to make them a day ahead, hit them with a spritz of lemon juice to thoroughly coat, then cover and refrigerate (and cross your fingers…).