Sunday, July 25, 2010

Joy of Artichokes

Artichokes seem to be one of those foods that intrigues, puzzles, and even imparts fear. Most people are familiar with cracking open a can of artichoke hearts - which are delicious, don't get me wrong - but I'm here to tell you that you're missing out! Not only are whole artichokes delicious and fun to eat, they're chock full of nutrition - fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants.

To Buy an Artichoke

When you see artichokes at the store or farmers market, you should choose those whose leaves look fresh and not wrinkly (a sign of dehydration) and whose center leaves are tightly packed. A little bit of brown or white discoloration on the tips of the leaves is fine. This means they were either bruised in shipping or have been "frost-kissed".

To Cook An Artichoke

My preferred method of cooking is steaming. Depending on the size of the artichoke, this can take between 30-90 minutes.

Watching your fingertips on those prickly points, rinse the artichoke by placing it upright under running water and getting the water between all the leaves. Shake off excess water. Trim the end of the stem.

Put a vegetable steamer in the bottom of a pot, and fill the pot with water to just above the steamer (we have a silicone steamer for use in our non-stick pots, but a basic metal one is just fine if that's what you've got). Put the pot on the stove, artichoke in the pot, the lid on the pot, and turn the stove on high.

Set a timer for 30 minutes and go do other things - sort through the mail, start some laundry, do some cardio (haha, not me either), whatever.

After 30 minutes, use a pair of tongs to pull a leaf from about the 5th row of leaves from the bottom of the artichoke. If you have to use any amount of force to do this, put the lid back on and set the timer for another 10 minutes. Repeat until a leaf comes off easily in the tongs. Keep an eye on the water level to make sure you don't burn the bottom of the pot.

Drain and cool the artichoke in a colander. While it's cooling, put a half stick of butter in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and a teaspoon of any combination of the following: oregano, basil, sage, rosemary. Microwave for 30-45 seconds to melt the butter.

Alternate cooking: Boiling is faster, but it makes the leaves soggy and waterlogged. You can also crockpot - fill the pot halfway up with water, put the chokes in stem-side down, and set on low for 6 hours.

To Eat an Artichoke

Here comes the fun part.

Pull off a leaf, dip the bottom into the melted butter, place the leaf about halfway into your mouth, bite down, and pull the leaf out of your mouth. You should now have a tasty morsel of artichoke meat and butter in your mouth.

Savor, enjoy, and repeat until all the leaves are gone.

As you get further into the artichoke, the leaves will become lighter colored and thinner. You can eat as much of the leaf as you feel comfortable.

At some point, you'll come to the center of prickly leaves; this is the choke of the artichoke. Don't eat these; they're not good. With a spoon, slowly work around the edge of the choke to remove it. Don't dig too deeply or you'll lose some of the yummy heart hiding beneath.

Once you've got the choke out, you'll be left with the heart and stem. This whole part is edible - cut it up with the spoon, put the pieces into the remaining melted butter, and enjoy!

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