Last weekend I got a phone message from a friend. She wanted to tell me that she had just seen the most beautiful artichokes at the market and that I needed to stop by as soon as possible and bring some home to photograph. Of course I went as soon as I got her message. I just love lovely produce!
The artichokes at the market were really pretty. They were huge and had long stems and leaves attached. I picked up three to photograph and began to look forward to dinner. Artichokes make a great focal point for a family dinner and, since it had been a while since I'd cooked them, their novelty appealed to my sense of casual culinary drama.
While I have been cooking them for years now, artichokes still strike me as fresh and different. I was nearly thirty before I ever even tasted a fresh artichoke and I guess the newness hasn't worn off. Growing up in the southeast I don't ever remember even seeing one.
It's probably just as well. If we had eaten an artichoke back then I think we would have cooked it to death and, once it was mushy, put it in a cream sauce. Most green vegetables ended up that way at our family table. As a result I spent my early adulthood becoming newly acquainted with the beauty and vibrancy of broccoli and asparagus, steamed until just crisp tender, and fresh greens, gently wilted. So artichokes came into my life at a good time, just when I was ready to accept and enjoy their unique and defining attributes.
Once my sister-in-law moved to California I suppose the introduction became inevitable. It was only a matter of time until artichokes were on the menu during one of our visits. I went to the market with my sister-in-law and when she chose several fresh artichokes and put them in her basket I was intrigued. When we got them home I watched carefully and helped her prepare them. I was amazed at how simple it could be and how fun they were to eat. Won over by that introduction I have cooked them the same way ever since.
By the way, those artichokes from the market, were delicious! Here's how I prepared them:
Simple Artichokes with Curry Dip
½ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 teaspoon curry powder
Stir the curry powder into the nonfat plain yogurt and refrigerate until ready to use.
Trim the stem end of the artichoke cutting straight across just above the lower row or two of leaves. (Many people trim the top ends of the leaves to remove the small thorn. It may look better but I have never found this to be necessary since the spike softens when it is cooked. I seldom trim the leaves.)
Wash artichokes under running water then place them, cut side down, in a microwave safe dish. (I use a large 4-quart oval Corning Ware casserole with a lid. It held 3 large artichokes with the cover closing well on the top. You can cook as many as fit in the casserole with the bottoms of the artichokes resting on the bottom of the pan. Generally you will want one artichoke per person but, in the right company, two people could share one artichoke if they are quite large, as mine were.)
Fill the dish with 1/2 inch of water. Add 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon wine vinegar to the water in the dish.
Cover and microwave on high approximately 15 minutes. Check sooner for small artichokes. Very large artichokes may take a little longer. Check if they are done by pulling a leaf, several rows from the outside, from the artichoke and scraping the flesh between your teeth to see if it is tender. If not, microwave another minute and check again.
When the artichokes are tender, remove from the microwave and let sit for two or three minutes. Drain the artichokes and serve them with Curry Dip or melted butter.
To eat an artichoke - Pull the outer leaves from the artichoke, dip them in the sauce and pull the lower end, cupped side down, between your teeth to scrape the flesh away from the outer leaf. Discard the remains. Continue until you reach the inner leaves with little flesh remaining. Then remove the remaining leaves and discard them.
Beneath the small inner leaves you will see a ring of hair-like fibers. This is the choke. Use a spoon or a table knife to scrape these off of the soft fleshy layer beneath. Discard the choke.
What remains in the artichoke heart. Depending on the size of the artichoke it may be relatively thin or rather substantial. (The heart from the artichoke pictured weighed 1¾ ounce.) Cut or break this into bite sized pieced. Dip pieces in the curry sauce and enjoy!