Why I Splurged on Artichokes

Posted on March 1, 2012

My hand hovered over the basket piled high with globe artichokes. These were fine specimens: good heft, compact leaves, fresh and spot-free, bright green tinged with purple. Should I decide to buy, I would pay for both quality and seasonal scarcity. While artichokes are grown year round in California, the peak seasons are spring and early fall. If I could wait just a month or two, I might pay less.

I would have walked away from a similarly priced baking potato. Or an apple. Or anything else sold in single-serving state  that cost the same as, or even half as much as, one artichoke. But leaving the artichokes behind was not so easy. The shopping day was my birthday, I reminded myself. I could make baked stuffed artichokes, my favorite vegetable and my favorite preparation of it, as a gift to myself. The hand kept hovering, the cost a bit hard to justify.

And so was the time it would take to make the dish on a weeknight. An artichoke requires that you prepare it slowly and eat it the same way. Still, there is peace  and quiet in the rhythms of the work necessary to bring an artichoke to the table – trimming, steaming, cleaning, stuffing, and a final baking – and purpose in the intent. Through it all, anticipation mounts and finally, when at the table, enjoyment lingers. An opportunity like this one to cook and eat mindfully mid-week is rare. I thought of this, too, as I stood in the produce aisle.

And so I reached into the pile and selected four. I brought them home, cooked them for dinner, and shared. We enjoyed every minute.

Preparing and Cooking Artichokes

Not so much of a recipe as a method. Follow the photographs to learn how to trim, steam and clean the chokes. They will be ready for eating after being steamed, if you prefer to dip your leaves and artichoke heart in a mayonnaise or a vinaigrette. It takes a few extra steps to stuff them and bake them as I did last week, and you’ll find the instructions for doing so near the end.

Use a serrated knife to cut about 3/4" off the top

Trim the stem straight across, leaving about 1/2" attached

Strip off the small tough leaves around the base near the stem

Using shears, cut 1/4" off the top of each outer leaf

Trimmed

Fan open the outer leaves to expose the leafy heart

Snip some of the leaves and the fuzzy choke out before steaming

Place artichokes, stem up, in a steamer basket set over salted boiling water

Cover the artichokes and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Steam for 30 – 45 minutes for fully cooked artichokes, depending on the size. A knife inserted in the stem should slip in easily without the flesh being too soft.

Partially steam artichokes for about 25 minutes if you intend them for stuffing and baking. They will continue to cook in the oven. A knife should meet with just a little resistance when inserted in the stem.

After steaming, expose the choke and use a spoon to throughly finish cleaning out the spines

Remove from steamer basket and let cool enough to touch without burning your fingers. Eat now with a dipping sauce, or continue reading and follow the instructions to bake and stuff the artichokes.

For stuffing:

  • 3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs, either plain or seasoned
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, optional (less assertive than fresh in this dish, but substitute a fresh clove if you wish)
  • olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the first four ingredients together in a small bowl.  Drizzle in olive oil a few drops at a time, just until the crumbs start sticking together a bit. You don’t want them to be wet or even to come together in clumps. Just moisten them; they should still look “crumby.”

Loosen up the leaves of the artichokes a bit. Holding the artichoke in one hand, and using your free hand to pick up some of the stuffing, carefully dust crumbs inside the layers of leaves and in the center of the cleaned and cooked artichoke.  Use about 1/4 cup of crumb mixture in each artichoke. Artichokes should look like this when you have finished dressing them:

Place the artichokes into a dish just large enough to hold them snugly. Pour about 1/4-inch of water in the bottom of the dish. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes.

To eat, remove leaves from the cooked artichoke moving from the outside of the glob to the inside. As you remove a leaf, hold it from the tough top, and strip the tender bottom part of the leaf together with the stuffing using your teeth. Have a separate dish or bowl handy for discarding leaves. Take your time. Enjoy.

©2012  Jane A. Ward