A tasty, but enigmatic veggie
An artichoke is a beast – but you can tame it.
It’s almost as much work to eat one as it is to prepare one, but that’s what makes it worth the effort.
The flavor is sweet, vegetal and rich. With each bite you savor, you’ll appreciate each minute of exacting work it took to get you there.
Celebrated chef Thomas Keller said life’s greatest challenge is “to maintain passion for the everyday routine and the endlessly repeated act, to derive deep gratification from the mundane.” And he sees the preparation of artichokes as the pinnacle of rising to that challenge.
“You may look at your artichokes and think, ‘Look at all those artichokes I’ve got to cut and clean.’ But turning them – pulling off the leaves, trimming their stems, scooping out the chokes, pulling your knife around its edge – that is cooking.”
Cooking an artichoke
You’ll need an artichoke, a lemon and plenty of melted butter.
n You only want the best, so get rid of the rest: Tear off the tough outer leaves, and cut off the stem and the top third. Use scissors to snip off any sharp leaf tips that remain.
n You want it pretty. Rub and squeeze the cut side of half a lemon all over the artichoke to keep it sprightly and green.
n Drop the artichoke into boiling water or set it upside down in a steamer, cooking until a knife slides easily into the stem end (about 40 minutes), or cook it for 10 minutes in a pressure cooker. Meanwhile, relax and enjoy a couple of chapters from that book you’ve been neglecting. Finally, set a simple table with a small plate, a soup bowl, a fork and a ramekin – all for yourself.
Eating an artichoke
n Squeeze the other half of your lemon into a couple of tablespoons of melted butter in the ramekin.
n Set the artichoke upright on your plate and begin to pull off one leaf at a time. Dip the meaty end of the leaf in the lemon butter and s-l-o-w-l-y scrape off the meat with your teeth. Mmmmmmm. Toss the relished leaves into your soup bowl.
n Notice how each leaf tastes better and better as you get closer to the heart.
n Observe your satisfying mound of discarded leaves. Begin to remember how good eating this artichoke has been.
n When you see the purple-tipped leaves and furry “choke” in the center, slow down even more. This little defense mechanism is trying to keep you from getting to the really good part – but you know better. With the side of a fork, scrape off the choke and add it to your pile of artichoke detritus. You have tamed this beast.
n Slice through the heart with your fork, breaking it into chunks. Drop each into the butter. Wait – you ate all of the butter? Well, melt some more. Drop your little broken heart into the butter and let it soak while you think about how good it’s about to get.
n Savor the last few bites.
n Consider: Is this one of the most satisfying three-ingredient solo meals you’ve ever had?
and shrimp tempura
1/2 to 1 pound fresh baby artichokes or artichoke hearts (or substitute canned hearts)
1/2 to 1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
Canola or peanut oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon potato or cornstarch
Salt, to taste
1 cup light beer (or sparkling water)
Garnish: minced chives and grated Parmesan
To prepare the baby artichokes, cut off the top quarter and slice the baby artichoke lengthwise into four sections.
If using large artichoke hearts, cut them into quarters. If using canned artichokes, rinse and dry them thoroughly before battering.
When making tempura, it’s important to keep everything as cold as possible – you can even chill the flour in advance.
Heat the frying oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and have everything prepped and ready when you begin to make the batter so that it will stay cold.
Fill a large bowl with ice water, then mix the batter in a smaller metal bowl set inside the larger bowl. Stir together the flour, starch and salt.
Slowly pour in the beer while stirring gently. The batter will be thick and lumpy; do not over-mix.
Dip each piece of shrimp and artichoke into the batter and drop them quickly but carefully into the hot oil.
The shrimp will be done in a couple of minutes; the artichokes will take about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the pieces with salt as you remove them from the oil. Garnish with chives and Parmesan.
Serve hot with dipping sauce.
Classic Italian stuffing:
Breadcrumbs, capers, anchovies, hot peppers, garlic, onions, parsley, Parmesan, olive oil, salt, pepper
Classic Mediterranean stuffing:
Olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sheep’s milk cheese, pine nuts, lemon, basil, salt, pepper
For bacon and garlic lovers:
Weave thin strips of bacon and slivers of garlic throughout the leaves, then fill the center with sauted mushrooms and shallots.
Trim your artichokes according to the instructions above. Then cut or scrape out the choke in the center, and rub the artichoke all over with a cut lemon.
Gently pull the leaves a little bit away from the center all the way around, and set the artichokes in a baking dish filled with an inch of flavorful stock (The author prefers chicken stock.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and pack the stuffing between the leaves, down into the center and into all the empty spaces.
Tent the pan with foil. Bake for 45 minute to an hour, or until a leaf pulls away easily.
Remove foil, top each stuffed artichoke with grated cheese, then broil for a couple of minutes and serve immediately.
Artichokes are a natural for grilling. Their outer leaves aren’t edible, so they char away on the outsides while the insides get smoky-sweet.
Serve them with a dipping sauce that adds a kick while also cooling things down, such as yogurt mixed with fresh mint, hot red chiles, a dash of vinegar, and a pinch each of salt and sugar.
Dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc (optional)
Freshly ground pepper
Prepare a grill.
Cut artichokes in half and scrape or cut out the chokes.
Blanch them until barely soft in a mixture of half water and half dry white wine, with just enough liquid to cover them. (The wine is optional, but adds a little something special.)
Remove and drain, then coat the artichokes thoroughly in olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Grill over high heat, about 5 minutes per side, then cook over indirect heat for about 10 minutes.
Turn every so often, until the outsides are charred and the insides are tender.
Remove the burnt parts. Serve hot with a cool sauce.
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