We recently hosted a spring-themed Community Education dinner at Bistro Verde on the Lincoln Land Community College campus. The star ingredient of the first course was an artichoke.
I have to admit, I have little experience working with fresh artichokes. I often use canned artichoke hearts and always in my spinach artichoke dip recipe. After seeing a version of spinach artichoke dip served in a fresh artichoke at the dinner, the beautiful presentation encompassed the look of spring on a plate. I wanted to know more, so I headed to the store for a few fresh artichokes.
I wonder how many people are intimidated by the look of an artichoke. The thorny leaves can look menacing, but did you know they are actually edible? The artichoke is the immature flower bud of a thistle. It is eaten as a vegetable and is culinarily classified as such. The plant is a member of the aster family, and the bud is harvested before it blossoms.
Artichoke is not an easy vegetable to prepare, and you'll need to do some work to get to the edible parts. The outer leaves, called "bracts" of the bud, have thorns on the tips. The innermost leaves are tender enough to eat. Under those, you'll find a choke, the hairy center on top of the heart, then the stem. The heart is the meatiest part of an artichoke, and the center part of the stem is also edible. The choke is generally not eaten, unless it's a baby artichoke.
Artichoke needs to be cooked before eating, typically by baking, boiling, braising, grilling, microwaving or roasting. Steaming the whole artichoke is one of the easiest and most popular cooking methods. Properly preparing an artichoke for cooking will make the experience of eating it much more enjoyable. You will need to cut off and discard the stem at the base, the thorns on the tips of the leaves, and the thorny crown. The tough outer leaves are removed, making it easier to get at the soft, creamy flesh on the bottom of the inner leaves and the meaty heart once cooked.
Artichokes have a nice nutty flavor and serving it steamed with a butter lemon sauce is a great way to introduce yourself to cooking and eating fresh artichokes. I tried the following recipe from New York Times Cooking, and it is definitely staying in my recipe box for future use. Enjoy!
Steamed Artichokes with Lemon Butter
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 1 1/4 to 2 hours, depending on size
Large, plump artichokes are generally better for steaming than smaller ones. They may take longer to soften, but you’ll end up with plenty of meaty petals to pull off and dip into the lemon butter. This recipe gives instructions for steaming the artichokes in a traditional pot, but a pressure cooker, either electric or stovetop, is a faster option if you have one. See the note below for instructions.
- 2 large artichokes, or 4 medium artichokes
- 1 whole lemon, halved, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, finely grated or minced
- Large pinch of kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- Pull off any brown or very tough outer leaves from one artichoke.
- Use a sharp knife to cut off the top 1 inch of artichoke, then rub with the cut side of the lemon.
- Use kitchen shears or scissors to cut the pointy tops off the remaining outer layer of leaves.
- Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to peel the stem down to its tender pale-colored core; immediately rub the stem with a lemon half.
- Use your fingers to separate the center leaves to expose the fuzzy pale choke sitting on top of the heart. Use a spoon to scoop out the choke and rub a little lemon juice over the exposed flesh.
- Repeat with the remaining artichokes.
- Fill a medium pot with 2 inches of water, place a steamer basket inside, and bring water to a simmer.
- Place the artichokes bottoms down on the rack, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and simmer over low heat until you can easily pull off an artichoke leaf, 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove from the steamer basket and transfer to a serving platter.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, garlic and salt. Slowly whisk in butter.
- To serve, have everyone pull off the leaves and dunk the meaty bottoms into the lemon butter, swirling to mix butter with each dip (the butter will separate as it sits).
Tip: To use a pressure cooker, prepare the artichokes as described above. Pour 1 cup of water into the pressure cooker and insert a steamer basket. Place the artichokes on top of the steamer basket, cover and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes for large artichokes (10 minutes for medium, 5 for small). Release the pressure manually. If the artichokes are not yet tender, cover pot and pressure cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value-Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through LLCC Community Education.
Cooking or food questions? Email email@example.com.