I was an extremely picky eater growing up. I blame this in large part to my bio-mother’s cooking skills (or lack thereof). However, as I started teaching myself to cook (watching the entire PBS cooking show schedule every weekend) as a teenager, my palette started to finally widen out. Still, oddly enough, one vegetable I always loved even as a small picky eater child was artichoke. My dad would prepare it with little prep – dropping the whole thing in a pot of water and boiling the heck out of it, fishing it out with metal tongs and serving it, rolling around all by its lonesome on a Corell dinner plate. We would dip the leaves in red wine vinegar, oil and garlic, a mixture my dad had smoshed in the blender and poured into crystal punch cups. My dad would go even farther, eating every part of the artichoke but the “choke” – the fuzzy interior between the inner leaves and the heart of the artichoke above the stem. It took me awhile to work up the nerve to try the heart of it, but now it’s my favorite part.
I haven’t strayed too far from Dad’s preparation here, though I have over the years made a few modifications to class it up a bit. Artichokes are a delicious (and surprisingly filling, considering you only eat the bottom of the leaves and what your teeth can scrape off the surface of them, and of course, those delectably sturdy hearts) meal in and of themselves, or served in halves or quarters make for a great appetizer. They have more antioxidants than any other vegetable, are linked with cancer prevention, help with digestion and liver function, and one medium artichoke has more fiber than an entire bowl of prunes (and I promise the skeptical you will enjoy the artichoke more than the prunes).
What You’ll Need:
2 medium-size artichokes
1/3 c. safflower or other non-olive oil vegetable oil
1/6 c. balsamic vinegar
Juice from that 1/2 lemon above
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp tarragon
1/2 tsp thyme (if you can get fresh herbs for any of the herbs, use double the amount – these measurements are for dried herbs)
1 garlic glove, minced
First, the prep work: As I said my dad would plunk the whole thing in the water and eat nearly all of it, too, but I prefer a well-groomed artichoke. Start by using a large knife to cut off the stem at the base of the artichoke so it will sit flat on your plate. Then, use cooking shears or scissors to clip those sharp points off all the leaves until you reach about the top third of the artichoke. At that point, use your carving knife to simply slice that top third off – its made up of the inedible, tough top part of the leaves. You won’t miss it.
Your artichokes should now look like this:
Use your lemon half to rub down the edges of all the leaves and the top – this will keep them from browning while you cook. Set aside the lemon for the dressing. Now, gently set your artichokes in a bot of boiling water (the water should rest at least halfway up the choke) that’s been salted with about a half-tablespoon of salt just before adding the artichokes.
Aren’t they cute? Cover them, and boil the heck out of them. At least 30 minutes, but in all of my years cooking artichokes, I’ve found no two artichokes cook the same – some are done (and if a fork presses easily through the stem at the bottom and leaves easily come off around the bottom, it’s done) after 30 minutes, some 45 – patience is a huge part of artichoke enjoyment. Read a book or better yet, go get some exercise in while you wait.
Once the artichokes are done, turn off the pot, but leave them in the water to keep warm while you prepare the dressing. Add all dressing ingredients to your blender and blend until combined and smooth – the dressing should be somewhat thick in texture. Plate your chokes, pour the dressing into small dipping bowls and:
Eating an Artichoke:
It’s not as tricky or intimidating as it seems. Working from the base up, peel a leaf off of the artichoke, dip it in the dressing and then, keeping a firm hold on the top of the leaf, use your top teeth to pull the pull off of the surface and bottom of the leaf. As you work your way in toward the middle, you’ll notice the leaves get smaller (and sharper – watch out for those points!). I just pull those off in a bundle, dip them, and carefully bite the bottoms off in one bite. Once you get to the fuzzy “choke”, use the edge of your fork to scrape it away until you see only the firm flesh of the heart, which is not only edible, it’s the entire reason I eat an artichoke now. Dip that, too, and savor the delicate flavor of such a prickly plant.