How could I possibly even entertain the thought of moving forward in my blog without first taking a moment to idolize one of the most wondrous and intriguing, yet sometimes under-appreciated vegetable in the world — the artichoke. At first glance, to many newbies, they might cry, Hark! What is this forsaken monstrosity that lay before thy? Be gone, misfit of all things edible and green! Bahh!
Okay, maybe that was a bit extreme. I digress.
Artichokes. Perennial thistles, actually. I bet you didn’t know that. You will learn a little bit on this here blog. Just for fun. My first experience with artichokes started when I was really young. And by “young,” I mean teenage years. Because I’m not young anymore. I mean, I feel young, and almost always act young, but I’m not young…like a teenager. Does that make sense?
[insert cheesy, tranquil and reminiscing music here]
I remember sitting at the table, a huge bowl of artichokes staring me down, as if challenging me to eat them with their voices scoffed and defeated (the boiling water and lemon juice having had the upper hand that day). A simple, yet delicious mixture of lime juice, salt, and pepper sat in a small Pyrex container to the side, awaiting dippage (the act of being dipped — my creation TM, Copyrighted, and All Rights Reserved). After getting trained in the art of eating an artichoke by my wonderful father (aka The Reason Why I Love to Cook and Why I Am the Person I Am Today…I love you dad!), I finally took the plunge and experienced first-hand what an artichoke, in it’s purest of forms, tasted like.
That’s when I fell in love.
Heavenly. Blissful. Exciting. Delicious. More, more, more, the little girl cried.
It was truly love at first bite. The battle between the acidity of the lime juice and the buttery-soft earthiness of the fleshy artichoke waged war inside my mouth. And I encouraged it. I actually provoked them to keep going at it, fearing that their discord would subside and they would form a peace treaty. No. I wanted more and more.
Especially enjoyable to me, all good tastes aside, was the continual act of plucking each leaf from the artichoke. It was almost meditative, in a sense, of doing the same movements over and over again and feeling enlightened. And feeling joy. Eating good food is joyful for me. This was a pivotal moment for me, as it probably readied my palate, patience, and willfulness to try new and unique foods in the future.
Fast forward many, many years (I won’t be forthright with my age quite yet. I do try to keep some things under wraps LOL), and I am proud to say that I have had the fortune to experience guinea pig, goat, beef heart, and beef tongue — all expertly cooked to perfection, no regrets to be had by me.
So, without further ado, I give to thee:
A Simple Guide to Cooking & Eating an Artichoke (and making a sauce for dippage)
First, you will need to buy an artichoke. Usually, artichokes are at their best during early Spring and/or late Autumn. Look for green, tightly closed artichokes that feel firm and look gorgeous. 🙂 Sometimes they will have splays of purple along the outside leaves and still have their long stems intact. Snatch those up — they make stunning visuals in your kitchen and will also taste amazing. Plus, you can wow your friends with your discriminating eye for beauty and freshness, all wrapped up into one.
Chop the stem off, if it still has it (the stems are edible, when cooked, so if you are feeling adventurous and don’t want to waste a morsel of this green gem, keep it for stocks, sauces, etc. It will flavor anything with a hint of artichokey-ness), making sure the artichoke can stand on it’s own base without assistance. Then, rinse the artichoke with water. If you’re feeling fancy, you can trim the sharp points of the artichoke leaves with cooking shears so as to decrease the chances that you will impale yourself with them. Hopefully, a) you’re as clumsy as me, but don’t give a sardine’s fin if you get a little hurt in the process of eating, or b) you’re not feeling particularly fancy that day and you decide to give it a try without the food insurance. Just for the record, I never trim the leaves.
Fill a big pot with cold water, add the juice of 1 lemon to it, stir, and add the artichoke(s). If they are bobbing around like crazy and can’t seem to decide which way is up, you can do what I do and put a metal collapsible colander type thingy to stabilize it. You may need to put a rock on it, or something else heavy to keep it down. I never said cooking was going to be boring, folks! Turn the heat up and set it to boil. Once it comes to a rolling boil, reduce it just a wee bit so as to not infuriate the artichokes. You just want them to be slightly perturbed. The artichokes are ready in typically 35-45 minutes. You will know when they are ready to be fetched by the easy, no-fight pluck-age of their leaves. Ah.
Set the artichokes on a platter and allow to cool for a moment. While this happens, you can whip up a quick and easy sauce to dip them in.
My Favorite Artichoke Dipping Sauce:
You shall require —
1/2 C. mayo
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 garlic clove, minced
S & P
*Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl.Voila! You have dip…or aioli if you want to be a fancy pants. 🙂
Now it’s time to eat. Behold the bountiful spread you have before you! Bask in the glory of your arduous labor and reap the benefits by devouring it!
Don’t be nervous.
Don’t ever be nervous.
First, pluck a leaf from the artichoke. The outer and lower leaves tend to be the most fibrous, so be fore-warned. They won’t bite you, but they just won’t be the most tender of the crew. Gently, and lovingly, submerge the soft tip into the sauce. Take a bite. Breathe.
As with love, the deeper you fall, the more involved and hairier it gets. Literally, in this particular instance.
Once you reach the core of beloved artichoke, you will come across several thin layers of leaves, usually translucent at this point. Pluck and discard. Underneath, you will find a ring of fibers, the “choke,” all of which you can spoon away to reveal the most prized attribute of the artichoke…the “heart.”
It is soft, and buttery, with just enough “bite” to remind you of a ripe Asian pear. Dipping the “heart” in the sauce is euphoric. It’s like the feeling you get after you’ve trained for a marathon, and you’re at the last stretch, you can see the finish line before you, you can hear your supporters cheering you on…you can taste the victory! Not that I’ve ever ran a marathon…or even remotely ran for an extended period of time. Unless you count running on the treadmill for 10 minutes. Woo-hoo!
So there you have it. The artichoke. A beginner’s guide. Somewhat. I hope you grow to love the artichoke as much as I do. Remember, they do have “hearts” you know! 😛