Do artichokes intimidate you? Just looking at those bundles of hard, spike leaves is enough to send cooks running for cover. But don't run too far off – with a little understanding and practice, you can be an artichoke wizard!
Several varieties of artichokes are harvested throughout the year, but they are all prepared the same way. Choose individuals that are heavy for their size and look freshly picked. Don't worry if the green leaves are tinged with brown, these 'winter kissed' artichokes have just been exposed to a little frost – which does not affect quality.
There are several ways to tackle an artichoke; here is the method I find the easiest. It may seem tricky at first, but after two or three, you'll be a pro!
If your artichoke has sharp leaf tips that bother you, just cut them off. Place artichoke on a cutting board and hold by the stem, leaf tips facing away from you. Slide a heavy chef's knife in the direction the leaves are pointing, slicing off tips.
Now split artichoke into two identical halves - cutting from stem to tip. Leave as halves for stuffing, or split into quarters for even easier choke removal.
Locate the bristly choke in the center, and where it connects to the heart. With a paring knife, cut the thistles from the heart - cutting from the second or third leaf on one side and guiding your knife tip down in a half circle motion. The idea is to separate the choke from the heart and cut through the first few layers of baby leaves surrounding the choke.
If your cut is correct, you can simply pop out the choke with the first layer or two of leaves. If it resists, cut deeper and try again; take care, the thistles may get out of hand – if so, simply rinse away. Immediately place into water with lemon juice to inhibit browning.
Steam or boil in salted water with lemon and herbs until tender and leaves pull away with a little tug, about 20-30 minutes. Now fully cooked, your artichoke can be stuffed, grilled, marinated, or served with dipping sauce. To eat, remove leaves one by one and scrape the 'meat' from the inside of the leaves with your teeth – when all the leaves are gone, dig into that tasty artichoke heart!
Artichokes really are simple to prepare, and the best way to learn is experience. Don't worry if you mangle a few, they'll still taste fine. It's time to end intimidation – understand artichokes and you'll learn to unlock their wonder! Buon Appetito – Salute! Chef Mick Rosacci