I love when food isn’t just yummy but also beautiful, and this is so true in the case of artichokes. Aren’t they gorgeous? They’re like the edible version of my favourite flower, the protea (call me a biased Capetonian if you must) except they are purple-er. I love that someone thought to use them as a unique and beautiful theme (along with asparagus) for a winter wedding.
They are not very well known here, and even then only in their vinegary pickled state (which is not necessarily bad). I saw them all over markets in Italy and I was just dying to get my hands on a little purple bunch of the baby ones… If I have the opportunity to return, I am going to do the self-catering thing because it is sooo frustrating to be in Italy without a kitchen on hand.
So while doing the rounds in my local supermarket recently I was pleasantly surprised to find fresh artichokes! I carefully propped them up on the part of the shopping trolley where you would normally insert a child (lazy buggers), so that nothing could damage my precious cargo… this meant that every other person (nosy parkers) stopped me to ask what on earth they were, including the cashier who looked slightly afraid of them and didn’t really believe me when I tried to explain.
Off I traipsed, to prepare myself some floral yumminess – BUT as soon as I stepped into the kitchen, I suddenly realised I had no idea what to do with them. Those thorns really are prickly, kind of like kitten claws, and they were absolutely enormous with no indication of how to get at the heart of them. Fortunately it was a case of the Net to the rescue and since I had lots and lots of produce to work with, I got plenty of practice. And had to eat them for nearly a week…
This is my favourite way so far, in that it is simple:
Using kitchen scissors, snip off the thorny bits of the outer leaves. Apparently, once cooked, the thorns soften and are edible – but I’m not taking any chances. Using a sharp knife (careful now) slice off about 2cm off from the top of the artichoke. Then, even more carefully, cut off excess stem – most methods online said to leave a bit of the stem on, but I like to be able to stand the artichoke upright on my plate so I go right ahead and ruthlessly judo-chop the whole stem off. If you like to leave a bit of stem, apparently the inner portion is edible once cooked… feel free to keep me posted on the thorns and stems if you eat them.
Give the trimmed artichokes a good rinse in cold water, then bring to the boil in a big-enough pot lots of water with a clove of garlic and a slice of lemon (I added lemon juice from a bottle – recipes calling for a slice of lemon never say what to do with the rest of the lemon, and there’s only so many cups of Earl Grey I can handle a day).
Add the artichokes, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 25 to 45 minutes or until you can easily tug off one of the outer leaves – all done!
So that’s the cooking – here’s how to eat the fruits (vegetables?) of your labour:
Pull off the petals one at a time, working your way in. Dip the fatter base-end of the leaf into melted butter or mayonnaise (I like mine with butter) and holding onto the tip, pop the base into your mouth and use your teeth to scrape the fleshy inner part out, discarding the outside part. It’s amazing how much waste these things make on your plate. When you are through with the petals, you will find a strange furry part in the middle – scrape the fuzziness off (it’s not edible. it sticks to your tongue. oops). What you will be left with is the fleshy and delicious heart of the artichoke (heartichoke?). Slice it up and dip into your sauce of choice – isn’t that just yummy?
To me the whole exercise proved that the artichoke is far too much work for one person, and I’ll be shnoofling the recipe away for dinner parties where there is a pressing need to show off to my guests. I bet they’d make even a grilled cheese sandwich look all shmancy if they shared a plate. For now, I think they are so beautiful that the best place for them is in a vase as a foodie-floral display.
PS: I probably don’t have the inherent nastiness required, but wouldn’t it be an awesome bit of one-upmanship to serve artichokes to one of those know-it-all people you dislike intensely, just so that you can watch them struggle to get to grips with it? *maniacal cackle*
See! I knew they were too pretty just to eat! Saw these gorgeous ceramic artichokes at Petit Fours in Cape Town; there were also silver ones at Le Chameleon in Humansdorp but sadly I didn’t have a camera handy: