Artichokes. In all their mysterious, prickly splendor artichokes are a beautiful thing to behold and somewhat magical to eat, leaf by leaf.
Having eaten artichokes for as long as I can remember, I am a bit surprised that some people are a little bit intimidated by them. Even a touch scared. I guess I shouldn’t be. Think of it, when you first see them in a market or a garden they are a closed bundle of green. And if you try to pick up an artichoke carelessly you will likely get a sharp jab that does actually smart. Nonetheless, having been an adventuresome eater as a child (my mom loves to tell the story of my gobbling the escargots off of her plate when I was in kindergarten before she had a chance to eat even one) I was quite accustomed to eating artichokes when I entered adulthood and discovered that lots of others aren’t.
Around about the time I got married, I discovered a lovely book (kind of an adult picture book) called “She Taught Me to Eat Artichokes”. This may have been my first clue that lots of people are taken aback by the artichoke. This is the kind of book you give as thanks to a good friend who has been there for you in your time of need, encouraging you to take risks you might not have previously considered – and once you do, the reward is sweet. You get the idea, peel back the prickly leaves one by one, and eventually you get to the treasured heart. An apt metaphor for some of our challenges in life.
This time of year I cook artichokes and asparagus almost every other day. Since nothing compares to the fresh, in-season flavor of these delicacies, I indulge copiously for the few weeks they are just perfect, and then forgo them for the rest of the year.
I think part of what I love so much about artichokes is that they make for the kind of eating I like best – experiential. It’s hands on eating that almost forces you to go slow and savor each bite. There really is no wolfing down an artichoke. They are perfect to nibble on while making dinner, sipping a glass or two of wine (I like a dry Riesling with artichokes) and catching up on the day.
Last week my middle son was asking to go to a friend’s house. I had never met the friend before, so they dropped in to have a chat. A platter of artichokes was resting on the counter for pre-dinner snacking. When I offered it to the boys my own son turned up his nose (his usual response to almost any vegetable) but his friend was game. He’d never had an artichoke before, so I had to talk him through it – pull off a leaf, dip the broad end in the sauce, scrape the meat and the sauce off with your teeth. I could tell he wasn’t thrilled, but I was impressed with his willingness to try it! One can only hope my boy would do the same at someone else’s house…
For an added twist you can also grill the artichoke. To do that, you simply go through the steps listed below and once you have removed the choke brush the whole thing with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over charcoal or gas until grill marks appear, then it’s time to dig in.
If you’re new to the wonder of artichokes, don’t be afraid – just dive in and go for it. It’s really quite simple.