Eating an artichoke is a journey to be enjoyed and savored on the way to reaching the tasty heart. We like to eat our artichokes as a leisurely appetizer to other Italian food. What you may not realize is that, fully cooked, the leaves have a succulent morsel at their base that should be part of the eating experience.
Leaf tips trimmed (left), then top sheared off is how I prep my artichokes. (Photo by Laura Groch)
Dipped into a sauce of your choosing, the bottoms of the leaves yield more and more meat as you work your way into the center of the artichoke.
By the time you’ve scraped the last morsel off the inner leaves (and you’ll find you can eat some of them whole), you’ll have a plateful of leaves — and the grand finale, the heart, still awaits.
(This is why it’s said that the artichoke is the only vegetable where you end up with more on your plate than when you started.)
Let’s begin with selection. Some artichokes are large and round; others more pointy-shaped and smaller. They all taste good, so don’t be put off by a few brown spots on the leaves.
Start by running the artichoke under water, slightly separating the leaves so the water can flush out any debris. (Watch out for the pointy spines on some of the leaves.)
Steam the artichokes on the stove, as shown here, or in the microwave until leaves can be removed easily. (Photo by Laura Groch)
Then slice off the stem of the artichoke close to the base. You want a flat surface so the artichoke can stand up on its own. On very young and tender artichokes, some of that stem is also edible.
Get the kitchen shears and start clipping off the thorny tips of the leaves. When you get about 2/3 up the artichoke, take a sharp knife and slice off the top of the artichoke. You can rub a sliced lemon across the top to prevent it from oxidizing, the way apples do; or you can give it a dunk in some water mixed with lemon juice. Or you can dispense with that stage altogether if looks don’t matter to you. Sometimes I do the lemon thing, but most times I don’t.
Rinse again and set aside. (Oh, and DON’T put the artichoke trimmings into the garbage disposal. They’re too fibrous. Throw ’em on your compost pile or in the regular garbage can.)
Down to the artichoke heart and ready to cut away the last tiny thorny leaves. Note the pile of nibbled-at leaves on the plate. (Photo by Laura Groch)
Once you’ve prepared all your artichokes, decide how you want to cook them. I steam mine in a large pot in which I put my steamer rack. If you’re using the same gear, pour about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water in the pot, sit the artichokes on the rack and cook, covered, for anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on how many artichokes you’re doing and how large they are.
To test for doneness, take a pair of tongs and try to pull out a leaf from the side of the artichoke. If you can wiggle it free easily, the chokes are done. If you can’t, they need more cooking time.
Cut into the artichoke heart at an angle to remove the last tiny leaves. (Photo by Laura Groch)
I have had pretty good luck with this method, but had even better results recently when I used more water in the steamer than usual. It came over the bottom of the steamer and actually parboiled the bottoms a little more, cooking them a little faster. See what works for you.
Prefer to use the microwave? I’ve used a two-quart glass container to do up to four artichokes sometimes. You might want to rotate the chokes once or twice to ensure even cooking. Just add about an inch of water to the container and steam away. This will take at least 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven’s power.
While the artichokes cook, think about a dipping sauce. This can be as simple as your favorite salad dressing, or mayonnaise, or good olive oil, or honey mustard, or any other dipping sauce you enjoy.
At last, the artichoke heart minus the pesky leaves. Slice, dip and enjoy! (Photo by Laura Groch)
I use a soy sauce-olive oil combo. For each serving, I mince or microplane a garlic clove, add about a half-tablespoon each of soy sauce and olive oil, and a dash of lemon juice. Whisked with a mini-whisk, the sauce will emulsify and thicken a bit. Adjust this to your taste (we really like garlic, but not everyone does). And of course you can scale this up a bit. You probably won’t need more than two tablespoons of sauce total per person.
Some recipes drizzle cheesy sauces over the artichokes, with sauce filling the crevices between the leaves. I’ve also seen recipes with seasoned bread crumbs stuffed into the leaves, which seems like a lot of trouble. Once you’ve cooked and eaten a few artichokes, you’ll know better what you want to add to your experience.
So your artichokes are cooked. Now for the eating. Put an artichoke in a large, deep dish — perhaps a pasta bowl or large soup bowl. Wiggle the leaves out, starting from the bottom. Dip just the bottom of the leaf into your sauce, then put it in your mouth and draw it between your teeth to scrape off the flesh. (That sounds weird, but I think you can figure out what I mean.)
As you pluck away more and more leaves, you’ll find they are more tender and have more edible flesh on them.
When the heart comes into view (i.e., you run out of leaves), that’s when you can stop and slice away what now looks like a furry top (those are actually mini-leaves). Don’t cut straight across, but try to angle your knife or spoon down into the choke a bit.
Once you have freed it from the tiny leaves, the heart is ready for you to eat. (Save back a little bit of your dipping sauce for this moment.)
I prefer to clear my plate of all my half-eaten leaves before enjoying the heart. Just slice it into bite-size pieces, dip and enjoy.
You have mastered the art of the artichoke.