When I was growing up, artichokes were regular family fare. My father, born and raised in California, where most artichokes in the U.S. are grown, had since “forever” known how to prepare the prickly vegetable. But, to others we met in our travels from place to place as he pursued his Air Force career they were a mystery food. Friends invited for dinner had never seen nor, frankly, heard tell of such an exotic thing: was it a vegetable, was it edible? Once, when my high school boyfriend, having dinner at our house in Omaha, Nebraska, encountered an artichoke for the first time, he sat back in his chair to gain a little distance from the “whatever it was” and politely, timidly asked, “What do I do here?” We showed him how to pull off a leaf, dip it in lemon butter sauce, and scrape the “meat” off the bottom of the leaf with his teeth. He liked it, and my father was content that he fit right in.
Artichokes do present a formidable appearance to the uninitiated. Their thorny tips are threatening and why deal with that when it’s not clear what’s to eat? But, they are actually quite easy to tame by trimming off the top of the leaves with a a sharp chef’s knife or scissors. Once thus subdued and cooked, artichokes are a fun food, more hands-on, casual dinner or picnic fare than a formal dish to serve at the “Queen’s table.”
Serves 4 or more
4 medium globe artichokes or 24 baby artichokes
Extra virgin olive oil, the best you have
Four 3/4-inch wedges organic lemon or 1/4 cup organic lemon peel slivers
1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted, filtered water to a boil over high heat.
2. Trim the stem ends of the artichokes flush with the bottom. Pull off the tough outer leaves until you get to the tender inner ones. With a chef’s knife or scissors cut off the thorny tips of globe artichokes or across the tops of baby artichokes down to the light green bottoms.
3. Add the artichokes to the pot, cover, and cook, decreasing the heat slightly if the water threatens to boil over, until an outer leaf pulls off easily (use tongs) and the “meat” is tender, 10 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the artichokes and the season.
4. Ever so gently, so as not to break them apart, drain the artichokes into a colander. Set aside without disturbing until completely cool.
5. To serve globe artichokes, set them bottoms down on individual plates. Gently fan out their leaves to the inner proto-leaves. In a clump, pull those away (set them aside), revealing the fuzzy choke. With a spoon or paring knife ream out the choke and discard it. Pour a little olive oil into the center well of each artichoke and accompany with lemon wedges and the tender proto-leaves on the side.
6. To serve baby artichokes, arrange them on a lipped serving dish. Strew the lemon peel slivers across the top, add the olives here and there, and drizzle olive oil overall.