While it certainly took some courage to eat the first oyster, it
is that tenacious ancestor who first figured out how to eat an artichoke
who truly deserves our praise.
Looking for all the world like an armored rose, the artichoke
is a daunting ball of serried, spiked ramparts that grows ever more
challenging as you near the succulent heart of the matter, and it
guards its prized heart with a spiked, cottony mass that defines
the word ‘inedible.’ The artichoke never surrenders;
it cannot be shredded, beaten or mashed into submission. It must
be won on its own terms, leaf by leaf. Many vegetables may delight
you, but only an artichoke rewards you.
Anyone who has ever encountered the spiny choke won’t be
surprised to learn that the artichoke is a thistle, a perennial
member of the family compositae and related to, among others, sunflowers
and endive. When you eat an artichoke, you are eating the immature
flower head, or bud.
Passing through Sicily one March I saw entire fields of artichokes
ready for spring harvest. The tall, sprawling plants were a prehistoric
gray-green color. Huge, deeply cut leaves flopped from the thick
stems, each supporting heavy tulip-shaped heads spiked with thorns
on the tips. Artichokes from those local fields were offered in
every ristorante, served raw in olive oil, steamed and served whole,
stuffed and roasted, served in vinaigrette as an antipasto, or the
hearts thinly sliced and added to pastas and risottos.
Northern California is the epicenter of artichoke production in
the United States. Sleepy Castroville is hard against the Sierra
foothills, where the fields steep in cool foggy mornings and brilliant,
warm afternoons, rather like that Sicilian March I remember so vividly.
Spring and fall mark the two seasons of peak availability, though
artichokes can now be purchased almost year-round, there are variations
in quality. While some prefer the flavor of the summer artichoke,
others prefer the more intense, nutty taste of a cold-bronzed winter
artichoke. Whenever you buy them, artichokes should be firm and
surprisingly heavy, and should have a fresh dark green color. Buy
with the stem on whenever possible. It is an extension of the heart,
a treat in itself. (New thornless varieties have less flavor and
less meat; avoid them.)
Artichokes are delightful served simply with melted butter and
a touch of lemon, and marry perfectly with other assertive flavors
from their native Mediterranean region, especially garlic and olive
oil. The slightly bitter taste has a natural affinity for salt and
salty foods like prosciutto, sharp cheeses such as parmesan and
feta, and anchovies. The rich acidity of tomatoes is another match
made in heaven, but be careful when serving artichokes with wine
sauces and wine-based vinegars. Wine and artichokes tend to be touchy
in combination, especially red wines, which take on an unpleasant
metallic taste. Drink an earthy Italian white wine and eat lots
of lemon and garlic—good advice anyway, no matter what’s
on your plate. Enjoy!
- Deborah Schneider is Executive Chef of the Hilton La Jolla
Preparation: The Heart of the Matter
Use the following method to prepare whole artichokes for stuffing,
marinating or eating out of hand. It’s great fun to eat the
leaves as you dismantle the whole artichoke, and they’re a
perfect conveyance for a luscious, rich sauce, or simply served
with melted butter and lemon juice. Note: Don’t use aluminum
pots or carbon steel knives when preparing artichokes, as both the
artichoke and the metal will discolor.
Have ready a pot of boiling water that has been well-seasoned
with salt, the juice of several lemons, a few garlic cloves, a bay
leaf and a few spoons of olive oil. The pot should be big enough
to comfortably hold the artichokes when submerged. If there is a
stem, break it off instead of cutting it, then trim it flat; this
pulls out some of the tough fibers. Peel and cook the stems along
with the artichokes.
Lay the artichoke on its side and with a large sharp knife, cut
two inches off the top. Discard trimmings. Starting from the bottom,
trim off a row or two of leaves by snapping them at the base, or
trimming with a sharp knife. Take a pair of scissors and snip off
the thorns on the remaining leaves.
Removal of the choke can be done now or after cooking, but in either
case, use a spoon to scrape out and discard all of the spiny center,
being careful not to carve out too much of the solid heart. When
all the artichokes are trimmed, drop them into the pot and use a
smaller pot lid or a plate to keep them under the surface of the
water. Adjust heat so the water is at a gentle boil. Cook for 15
minutes then test for doneness by pulling on a leaf close to the
center. When the leaf comes out easily, the artichokes are done.
Alternatively, the bottom can be easily pierced with a sharp knife.
Depending on the size and if the choke is intact, it can take up
to 25 minutes to cook.
Carefully remove the artichokes from the water and set upside down
on a tray to drain. If they are to be served immediately, cover
and keep warm.
The truly single-minded will battle the artichoke down to its
heart alone before proceeding. Artichoke hearts prepared this way
are ready for use in salads, pastas, frittatas, gratins and risottos.
They can also be marinated in your favorite vinaigrette for an antipasto
or stuffed and baked and served as a vegetable accompaniment to
Have ready a bowl of cold water with lemon juice. Break off the
stem, then trim the bottom flat. Lay the artichoke on its side on
a cutting board, and with a sharp knife cut off the top until the
choke is exposed and the artichoke is about two and half inches
tall. Snap off the all outer leaves, starting at the bottom, until
only the choke remains. Use a spoon to completely scoop out the
spiny choke. Trim with a sharp knife until only the heart, completely
clean, remains. Drop the bottoms into the acidulated water as you
finish them. To cook, bring well-salted water to the boil and add
the juice of a lemon. Drop in the hearts and cook until tender when
poked with the tip of a sharp knife.
ARTICHOKES ALA ROMANA
A perfect spring antipasto that will transport you to Italy. Choose
firm heavy artichokes with the stems on. Serve warm or at room temperature
with lots of bread. Serves 6 as a first course.
- 6 medium artichokes (about 4-5 inches in diameter) with stems on
one-quarter cup fresh garlic, finely minced (about 8 cloves)
- 2 large lemons, washed
- 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
- 3 sprigs fresh mint, stemmed and chopped
- one-half cup good olive oil
Trim the outside leaves from the artichoke until you reach the
yellowish inside leaves. Cut two inches off the top. Trim the stem
to a couple of inches in length and split the artichoke in half
from top to bottom. Scoop out the choke with a spoon, and rub all
cut areas with a piece of lemon.
Choose a shallow pan with a lid just big enough to hold all the
artichokes in one layer. Lay the cleaned artichokes in the pan,
cut side up. Zest one lemon and mix with the garlic, chopped mint,
a pinch of salt and enough olive oil to make a paste. Spoon a little
of the paste into the hollow of each artichoke.
Add one inch of spring water or homemade chicken stock and the
juice from both the lemons. Sprinkle well with salt and put the
lid on. Let the artichokes cook slowly until tender when pierced
with a fork, but not falling apart. When they are done, lift carefully
onto a serving dish. Boil the cooking liquid until it thickens,
and spoon over the artichokes.
The long, slow, wonderful process of eating an artichoke leaf
by leaf demands a remarkable sauce like this powerful Lemon Aioli,
which goes well with artichokes, warm or cold. If you have any left,
which is unlikely, try it on grilled fish, with boiled little potatoes
or as a sandwich spread. Instead of using raw eggs, this recipe
uses a base of commercial mayonnaise. Makes about one and a quarter
- 2-3 large garlic cloves
- one-half teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- two-thirds cup Best Foods mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- Finely chopped zest of 1 fresh lemon and juice
- Pinch ground cayenne pepper
- One-quarter to one-third cup good dark green extra-virgin olive
- 4 large fresh basil leaves
Roughly chop the garlic and place in a small bowl or a mortar bowl.
Add the salt and use a fork or pestle to smash the garlic to a smooth
Slowly blend in the Best Foods mayonnaise, the vinegar, all the
finely chopped lemon zest, half the lemon juice, the cayenne and
the smaller quantity of olive oil. Taste and adjust the balance
of salt and lemon; if you want to really taste the olive oil, add
the extra quantity. Chacun a son gout; this sauce should be strongly
Stir in the chopped basil just before serving.
- Add chopped capers and finely diced roma tomato.
- Make as in master recipe except add a roasted chopped serrano
or jalapeno (or two) and substitute washed chopped cilantro for
- Use half orange and half lemon juice, or half lime and half
lemon juice, plus small amount of finely chopped zest.
PASTA with ARTICHOKE HEARTS, PROSCIUTTO
Made with fresh pasta and fresh artichokes, this is sublime; as
an off-the-shelf dinner (see Note) made with bottled artichoke hearts
marinated in olive oil and dried pasta, it will be merely great.
Do make the effort to buy a really sumptuous Italian Gorgonzola
from a good cheese supplier, like Aniata Cheese Co. in Del Mar.
8 fresh artichoke hearts, prepared according to directions (or
you may substitute one large jar of artichoke hearts marinated in
olive oil and herbs)
one-third cup olive oil (if using the prepared hearts, you may use
the drained oil)
one-third cup white onion, diced ¼ inch
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 ounces prosciutto diced into ¼ inch squares
1 sprig fresh oregano or ¼ teaspoon dried
one-third cup dry white wine
2 to 2 and a half cups heavy cream or whipping cream
6 ounces real Italian Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 pound fresh pasta
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Cut the artichoke hearts into thin slices or half-inch dice.
Have the pasta water boiling and ready to go (or precook dried
pasta and have boiling water ready to reheat.)
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onions
and cook until golden. Add the garlic, artichoke hearts and prosciutto,
and cook quickly for one minute, stirring.
- Add the white wine to the pan and bring to the boil. Add 2 cups
of the cream and bring to a gentle simmer. Turn heat to very low.
Whisk in the Gorgonzola until melted, and season with salt and
pepper. Keep warm.
- Cook fresh pasta (or reheat) drain well and toss in a large,
warmed bowl with the hot sauce. Add more cream if the sauce is
too thick. Serve immediately in warmed pasta bowls.
12 ounces of good-quality dried pasta can be used instead of fresh.
Cook the pasta completely, drain and rinse under hot water. Oil
very lightly and leave in the colander. Reheat when the sauce is
ready by tossing briefly into boiling water then draining again.
No prosciutto? Dice four slices of bacon into small pieces, drop
for 30 seconds into boiling water and drain. Proceed with recipe.
BAKED ARTICHOKES STUFFED
WITH GOAT CHEESE ‘SOUFFLE’
AND RED PEPPER SAUCE
An impressive first course that can be prepared ahead and baked
just before serving. This is surprisingly rich, so follow with something
simple and light, such as grilled fish and a fruit dessert. Serves
6 whole large artichokes, prepared per directions, cooked and spiny
chokes removed (handle the artichokes carefully to keep them intact)
1 8-ounce log of fresh, soft goat cheese
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 whole egg plus one egg yolk, well beaten
1 clove fresh garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 roma tomatoes, finely chopped and drained
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
one-half cup fresh bread crumbs mixed with 2 tablespoons melted
Water and a few drops of lemon juice or white wine
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set the artichokes in a flameproof
baking dish or shallow sauté pan, with a little space between.
In a mixing bowl, with a fork (do not use a food processor) mash
together the goat cheese and the cream. Stir in the beaten eggs
until well combined then add the garlic, fresh thyme, tomatoes,
salt and pepper.
Divide the mixture evenly among the artichoke centers. (If the
artichokes start to come apart, twist a belt of foil wrap around
the middle to hold them.) Fill almost level to the top. Sprinkle
the tops with the buttered breadcrumbs and a little more salt. (Can
be prepared ahead to this point and refrigerated.)
Pour about an inch of water and lemon juice into the baking dish.
Set the baking dish on the stove and heat until the water is very
hot. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the goat cheese filling is
firm and slightly puffed and the crumbs are golden. Serve immediately
on warmed plates with Red Pepper Sauce in small dishes on the side.
SPICY RED PEPPER SAUCE
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
One 14-ounce can roasted red peppers (or 4 fresh red peppers, charred
over fire, seeded and peeled)
One-half teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
In a food processor, puree the garlic with the salt. Drain the red
peppers and add to the work bowl. Puree until smooth. Drain for
a half hour in a fine sieve. Add the vinegar, cayenne and extra-virgin
olive oil. Add more salt and cayenne to taste.