When I first encountered an artichoke, I felt intimidated by the green flower bud. But I realized that artichokes are fun to eat and, though they might appear to be encased in armor, they actually are simple to prepare.
Before cooking artichokes, you cut off their tops and snip off the spiky tips of the remaining leaves. Then you boil or steam them.
To eat one, pull off a leaf, dip its bottom in sauce if you like and scrape the meat from the leaf’s base with your teeth. When you’ve finished the leaves, you come to a cone of thin purple leaves, which you discard. Under them is the fuzzy, inedible choke. Pull it out or scrape it off with a spoon. What’s left is the prized artichoke bottom, often called the heart, which you can eat with the same sauce you’ve used on the leaves.
Cook extra artichokes so you’ll have the hearts for other recipes--if you can resist eating them immediately. They’re terrific in salads, pasta dishes and stews.
Choose compact artichokes that feel heavy for their size, with their leaves (technically bracts) closed, firm and not dry. I go for those with as much stem as possible. The peeled stems have the same flavor and texture as the hearts, and I cringe when I see people throw them away.
Large artichokes are impressive and have big hearts, but small or medium ones cook faster and need little trimming. You can keep artichokes unwashed in the refrigerator up to five days.
Both delicate and assertive tastes complement artichokes. Some people prefer thick dips they can lift on a leaf, such as buttery hollandaise sauce or aioli, the Provencal garlic mayonnaise. Others like to dunk each leaf in melted butter or vinaigrette. In France the vinaigrette might be tangy with mustard or subtly seasoned with walnut oil and wine vinegar, in Italy accented with capers and olives, in Greece flavored with olive oil, lemon juice and dill and in California peppered with chiles. Fresh herbs, diced roasted peppers or chopped sun-dried tomatoes make tasty additions to any of these dips.
Don’t try to match artichokes with wine; they have a peculiar attribute of making it taste funny. And enjoy this sensuous symbol of spring as the starter for a relaxing dinner, not when you’re rushed or ravenous.
Faye Levy is the author of the James Beard Award-winning “Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook” (Warner, 1993).