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Friday, April 20, 2007

The Heart Of The Artichoke

Some like them; some hate them. Some consider it a true delicacy; some feel it is just not worth the effort. They can elicit "oohs" and "ahh's" and they can illicit a "yuck". They must be carefully chosen, tenderly held, slowly and delicately discovered and with a great deal of patience and work their soft, willing heart just may be revealed. Or they may prick you suddenly with hidden thorns.

Much like the one you love isn't it? Much like how we sometimes feel when we are lucky enough to fall head over heels in love.

Such is the Artichoke. Simple and easy to make, and yet one of God's creations that for some reason was given many allegorical qualities to remind us of life and love. (The word "Artichoke" seems to have come from the northern Italian word "articiocco," referring to its pine cone shape.)

Many settle for purchasing the artichoke heart. Many will buy frozen artichoke pieces. And yet the artichoke in essence is so easy to make and such a wonderful delicacy it would be criminal not to just put up the method of making it in Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen.

Here in Israel, one should buy artichokes during the spring when they are in season. To be sure they are sold for a few months but at the end of the season they are hard and unforgiving. But if purchased at the beginning and middle of the season they are really a great delicacy and serve as a wonderful entree to any meal.

In my family we eat Artichokes whole, and I will explain how. So first down to the actual preparation.

How To Shop For Good Artichokes:

As in the pictures in-season Artichokes should be green. They should also be soft to the touch. The leaves should be soft when you pick them up in the stand. They will always have some bruising - this is normal. This does not mean, and I say this from experience, that towards the end of the season you should stop buying them. However, the green, soft artichoke always tastes best and is easier to make.

Utensils Required:

  1. One large pot (required)
  2. One Steamer (an alternate way to make them - which is placed on top of the pot)
  1. 2 or more Artichokes (can be as many as you like or as many that will fit in your pot(s)
  2. One whole lemon per pot
  3. One teaspoon of salt per pot
Directions For Steaming:
*This will usually be used to just eat the artichoke hearts but can be used to eat the whole artichoke. This is NOT my recommended way of making them.
  1. Cut half the lemon and put in pot filled 3/4 with water.
  2. Put the salt in the water as well
  3. Place the artichokes and remaining half of the lemon in the steamer (which is nothing more than a large strainer that goes on top of the pot and acts as a basket for the food.)
  4. Begin to boil the water for around 30-45 minutes and turn the artichokes over every 15 minutes or so.
  5. You may need more time at steaming. Just see how the soft and pliable the artichoke is getting and watch the color of the leaves.
  6. Take out and serve with dip (we will get to that in a bit)
Directions for Boiling:
*Many people do not know that even the short stalk on the artichoke can be eaten when boiled correctly and tastes as good as the artichoke. Try this, for it is simple and easy.
  1. Put Artichokes in an empty pot. (Do not cut the stems off - these can be eaten as well!)
  2. Fill Pot with water. (Artichokes float but there must be adequate water in the pot.)
  3. Cut lemon with the salt and place in the pot.
  4. Bring to a boil and then place on medium flame.
  5. After around 15-20 minutes you will see the green leaves (stems) get dark. Turn them over in the water so the Artichoke cooks evenly. Be careful. That water is HOT!
  6. This should be done for at least 60 minutes. I am sure you can overcook Artichokes though I have never done it. I always leave them cooking for a total of 90 minutes.
  7. Take out and serve with dip!

Artichokes Cooked & Ready
(Notice the change in color)

Serving Artichokes & How To Eat Them:
  1. To eat an artichoke you must peel away away the outer part to get to the heart. However these too can be eaten with dip. But first is first. Once the stem/leaf is eaten for whatever it offers up you must have a receptacle on the table where people can deposit the artichoke leaf. Otherwise it gets messy. So place a large soup bowl or nice bowl (or two) depending on the amount of guests, in the middle of the table telling people to put their discarded leaves in it. If you have 6 people eating artichokes these bowls are going to fill up real fast.
  2. The artichoke stem or leaf has a soft part on the bottom. As you get closer and closer to the heart the area which can be eaten, the soft part, slowly inches up. Each leaf, when peeled away can be dipped or eaten plain on the bottom (where you tore it off).
  3. As you get closer and closer to the heart of the artichoke you will find a bit more thorns on the tips. Careful. Obviously don't eat those!
  4. The outer later around the heart is appealing, soft and tender and white. Do NOT be fooled. These contains thorns - protecting the heart of the Artichoke from pain that others would give it. (Sound familiar? Sure as hell does to me!) Eat with caution and slowly!
  5. Ahh! The heart of the Artichoke. Soft, tender, pliable. The gift of the creation. The center of its being. Eat with delight.
  6. Don't forget the stem. It cooked enough it is also soft and ready to eat and tastes even better than the Artichoke itself.
There must be 10,000 different dips offered for Artichokes. Mostly are simply re-inventions under a different name of Salad dressings. A Thousand Island or vinegar based salad dressing goes great with Artichokes. Go according to your likes and dislikes. I will post in the near future a quick and easy to make Artichoke dip.

For your information. On Passover we ate the Artichokes without any dip whatsoever. Everyone loved them.

Easy to make. Easy to serve. Makes for a great entree and allows for conversation. By the way, if you are hosting people you are not familiar or friendly with, this is a great entree to serve as an icebreaker. Allows for eating, laughter, and people to be themselves. Cuts through the formal "ice" of meals real fast - and yet is an elegant dish to serve which shows you care about your guests. In Israel though, during season, Artichokes are fairly cheap. I assume in other places of the world they are somewhat more expensive.

14 Fire Comments - Click To Post A Comment:

Deborah Dowd said...

We just had artichokes last night! They are a great and healthy snack. Although most people fawn over the heart, I for one love the artichoke bottom!

Inspector Mchammered of the Lard said...

Artichoke hearts pickled in olive oil are the holy grail as far as my grandad is concerned.

vb said...

its elicit not illicit
illicit means illegal

Mother Jones RN said...

I found your blog today and I just wanted you to know that I think it's great! I married my husband because I can't cook. He's the one that knows his way around a kitchen. I'm adding you to my blogroll.

Mother Jones, RN

Anonymous said...

Oh heart weighed down by so many wings.

Love to Knit said...

I can honestly say that I have never in my life eaten an artichoke.

Chris Bassoo said...

Posted by Chris Bassoo

...great blog, congrats of being blog of note...i have been reading your blog for an hour now and really enjoying...It is true that people get scared to start to cook, I used to be the same way, the only problem now is that i make a huge mess of the kitchen everytime i cook, also, i need a huge kitchen with all the utensils and all the ingredients and then "bon appetit"...again congrats

warm regards Christopher Bassoo, Canada

Miss Hacksaw said...

Hullo, just wanted to say that I love your blog! Will keep on reading.


Miss H

Unknown said...

Thanks for the directions on cooking artichokes. My daughter recently had some, and has been bugging me to try them. ;)

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

have just sown some artichoke seeds and intend to have four plants of my own

Anonymous said...

i wondered about the change in color. i only cook artichokes for about 45 mins!! i love them with hollandaise sauce as a dip.

and just a note on serving them to people you're not familiar with: many years ago i served artichokes to a man who'd never had them before, and he absolutely refused to ever eat them again. to him it was a waste of time getting the edible bit off each leaf to get down to the heart... that part he liked. and he liked the marinated artichoke hearts you can buy in jars.

LaDawn said...

My family and I were vacationing in France, near Bergerac with another family. There were these lovely artichokes in the morning market. I picked 6 or so up and took them home with me. the other family had never had artichokes before. I had been taught to cook them by my mother just like you do them here. I cooked them up and we all tucked in. they made me go back to the market everyday after that for the remaining vacation and make them for an afternoon snack. Even the children loved them.

PS Congratulations on BoN!

Anonymous said...

No artichokes here in's so sad. Of course, I suppose if I were living in the city instead of the middle of nowhere (which is a very awesome middle of nowhere, by the way), an import shop *might* offer them. On the other hand, I went to a huge ikebana flower arrangement show yesterday, and for the first time in 2 years saw an artichoke - used in a gigantic (taller than me) arrangement. And it did attract a lot of attention...I even heard one person comment that she "thought she had heard that you could EAT those!"

Ah, well. At least one artichoke made it here to Shikoku...

Anonymous said...

Two things that interest me about artichokes:

When you've finished eating one, there's more on your plate than when you started.

In the Jewish quarter of Rome, it's traditional to flatten artichokes, so that they resemble a flower, and deep fry them. I think they are a tam g'naden (A taste of the garden of Eden.) But I'm not going to try this technique myself.

When I'm short for time, I simply cut the thorny parts off the lower petals, trim the stem, wrap the whole business in microwave=suitable plastic wrap, and nuke them. Presto! An edible artichoke in only a few minutes.