Cooking School – Artichokes
How often have you bypassed the artichoke display at the supermarket because the little bulbs look so impenetrable? You’ve no doubt seen its prickly thorns and heard of the inedible choke, not to mention the tough outer leaves. (The word “choke” alone might send you scurrying down another aisle as far away as possible from them.) But, once you get to know these succulent delicacies, you’ll find yourself looking for them each spring with anticipation. There are many different varieties, but varying sizes of the globe artichoke is what’s most commonly found in Canadian supermarkets. And, despite the name, the Jerusalem artichoke is not an artichoke at all (nor is it actually from Jerusalem). But that’s another story.
The part of the artichoke that we eat is actually the plant’s flower bud. Young artichokes are tender enough all through to the fuzzy choke at its heart that they can be eaten whole. It gets a little trickier as the artichoke matures. Then thorns grow on the outer leaves and the inner choke becomes tough, spiny and inedible.
How to Handle an Artichoke
• Whole Artichokes: slice about 1/2 inch crosswise off the tops to remove the thorns; discard. Pull small leaves off the bottoms and stems of artichokes; discard. Use scissors to cut the thorny tips from the remaining outer leaves. If you’re keeping the stems, peel them to remove the tough exteriors; trim the bottoms to make them smooth.
• Artichoke Hearts with Stems: break off the artichoke leaves right to the pale, tender inner ones. Slice off the top third of the remaining leaves. Peel the artichoke bottoms and stems to remove the tough exteriors. Cut off any remaining thorns.
• Artichoke Bottoms: break off the artichoke leaves. Use a small spoon to scrape the fuzzy centres from the inside; discard. With a small knife, trim the stems flush with the bottoms. Peel bottoms to make base smooth.
• Cooked Artichokes: choose a pan large enough to hold the whole artichokes. Fill half the pan with water and, for each litre, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 5 black peppercorns. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the artichokes, cover and simmer until the bottoms pierce easily. Drain and serve hot or cold.
Artichoke and Fennel Salad
Both of these vegetables could use a little good PR. Fennel is very crunchy and tastes like liquorice. (Hence, it’s other name: anise.)
5 Tbsp lemon juice
1 large artichoke, cooked as above
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 oz parmesan cheese
2 cups fennel slices, cut very thinly on a mandolin
2 tsp Italian parsley, chopped
1. In a bowl, mix 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 3 cups water. Trim artichoke to the bottom, and dip into lemon water to preserve its colour.
2. Cut the bottom into paper-thin slices, dropping them directly into the lemon water.
3. Drain the artichoke slices well, and quickly mix with remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice and the olive oil in a bowl.
4. With a cheese slicer or vegetable peeler, shave about 1/2 of the cheese onto the artichoke slices. Add fennel and parsley; mix gently.
5. Mound the salad onto 2 plates, and shave remaining cheese onto salads. Add salt and pepper to taste.