Recently I was asked to name my favorite vegetable, and I was stumped/torn, as I like so many. My sister however, would not have hesitated for a second: favorite vegetable, artichoke; second favorite, artichoke; third favorite, artichoke. She might actually choose an artichoke over a slice of cheesecake—just kidding, she’d choose the cheesecake.
What is an Artichoke?
For many of us, artichokes are definitely one of my most alluring and mysterious vegetables around. A tender, slightly sweet heart sits in the middle surrounded by a battalion of pointy leaves—they look much like flowers, and they are actually a member of the thistle family.
Which Part of an Artichoke Can You Eat?
Perhaps part of their mystique is that so little of the globe-shaped vegetable is good to eat. Essentially it’s the heart, the base, that‘s edible, and when you cook an artichoke and pull out the leaves, a small piece of the choke attached itself to the base of the leaf, which can be scraped off with one’s teeth. Then, once all the leaves are gone, and the bristly thistle is scraped away, the artichoke bottom, is there for the eating. In short, if you are a person who loves lobster, and is willing to go through the work to extract every delicious morsel, then this is your vegetable.
There is more than one way to cook an artichoke (and pretty much any food under the sun….) but steaming is a very accessible and basic method of cooking the entire artichoke, without paring it down to just the heart first. For some recipes, before you cook the artichoke you’ll need to trim away everything but the heart and use that in the dish, but the following is how you prepare an artichoke for eating whole, whether you are serving them hot, at room temperature, or even chilled.
How to Steam an Artichoke
Trimming the top of artichoke:
Start by holding the artichoke firmly on its side and slicing the top 1/2-inch or so off with a knife.
You may want to have a cut lemon to rub against the cut top to prevent it from browning (this is not necessary, but is aesthetically appealing).
Trimming the base of the artichoke:
Cut off the stem of the artichoke close to the base. Remove the smaller tough leaves around the base of the artichoke. Rinse the artichoke, separating the leaves as you do this.
Trimming the leaves:
Also not necessary, but adding some polish to the presentation, is the step of cutting off the tips of each leaves with scissors. Again, rub the cut edges with lemon if desired. This not only makes the artichoke looks more manicured, but removed the tiny pointy thorns at the tip of each leaf. These do soften during the cooking process, so you won’t need to worry about them once the artichoke is cooked.
Seasoning the cooking water:
Fill a pot of water large enough to hold the artichokes (they can be touching) about 2-inches deep with water. You can add a few ingredients to the water if you like, but you might also just add a bit of salt, and leave it at that. Or you can throw in some seasonings to add additional light flavoring to the artichoke. These might include some wine or broth in place of some of the water, peppercorns, fresh or dried herbs such as thyme, rosemary, parsley or bay leaves, and slices of lemon.
Steaming the artichokes:
You can use a steaming basket, or just put the artichokes into the water, cut side up or down (they can be squished a bit to fit). Cover the pot, bring the water to a simmer over high heat, then lower the heat and continue to simmer the artichokes for 25 to 40 minutes, or until a knife slides easily into the stem end, or a leaf pulled from the artichoke comes out easily. The time really depends on the size of the artichoke, which can range in size from 3 to 6 inches (baby artichokes which are even smaller will steam in 15 to 20 minutes).
Serving the artichokes:
Serve the artichokes hot, warm, or cold sitting on their stems. There are some pretty artichoke plates intended just for this purpose with a little well in the middle to hold the artichoke, and a surrounding circle for the leaves to be discarded. Serve the artichokes with melted butter mixed with some lemon juice, mayonnaise (flavored or plain) or another dipping sauce.
Eating the artichokes:
Eating the Leaves:
To eat the artichoke, start by pulling off each leaf, place the part that was attached to the heart between your teeth and pull it out, scraping the tender bottom of the artichoke off into your mouth.
Getting to the heart of the choke:
When all of the leaves have been removed and eaten you will be left with the heart and the choke. Use a butter knife or a spoon to scrape off the bristly hairs, and discard. Now you’re left with the artichoke heart, the very best part. This entire part can be eaten, though there might be a bit of tough outer stem left at the bottom that you’ll want to cut away. Slice it, dip it, and eat it—you deserve it!