What's in season: If you've never prepared an artichoke before, the process can be a bit intimidating. Artichokes are edible thistles with tough, thorny exteriors that require time and patience to prepare. But the results are worth it — there's a reason why they've been prized since Roman times for their rich, buttery flavor. The vegetable comes in a variety of shapes and sizes; a single plant can produce one or two massive chokes, in addition to some medium and a larger number of "baby" thistles. Artichokes are generally available from spring through early summer, along with a short stint in the fall.
What to cook: Larger artichokes are traditionally steamed or boiled whole, then served alongside aioli or drawn butter. But invest a little more work — peel away the outer leaves, tough skin and fuzzy choke to reveal the "heart" — and add to pasta, paella or a spring vegetable stew. Baby artichokes are much smaller and generally more tender; sauté the vegetables in olive oil and garlic with a little water, or shave them and toss raw slices with a salad.
What's on the horizon: Zucchini and other summer squash are beginning to make a show at stands.