Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How to Hack Artichokes

If you've never cooked your own artichokes, this is the time of year to start experimenting.  They are easier to tackle than they look and are the world's best finger food. 

I am compelled to write this week's post by the most recent 'artichokes made easy' article I read in which the author recommended starting small, as in prepping baby artichokes.  This is an arduous task that pays off for only the truest of artichoke lovers.  If you want baby artichokes, by the frozen!  For beginners who want a freshly cooked artichoke, I say start big.  Find the biggest and heaviest artichoke in the bin and prep only one per person.

Here's how to tackle your first artichoke.

How to Buy Artichokes:  Artichokes can be very round or a bit pointy.  Either is fine.  Hold each one and pick only ones that are heavy for their size.  That means they have more water content and are fresher.  See any leaf tips that are bronze or tan?  Pick that one.  It means the plant went through a mild frost and has developed a deeper flavor.  Artichokes like a bit of heat and a bot of cold when growing.

Scroll down for simple cooking instructions.  If you already know how to steam or boil artichokes, enjoy this fresh spin on a classic that uses fresh artichoke and fresh spinach:

Easy Spinach Dip Artichokes
Serves 4
2 artichokes, cooked , halved and choke removed  (See method below if new to artichokes)
3 tablespoons good mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon grated cheese like mozzarella, cheddar or even some cream cheese
1/2 cup steamed spinach (start with 2 cups raw)
1/4 teaspoon dried dill
salt and pepper to taste
optional: 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese or panko bread crumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
  2. Place artichoke halves on a foil lined backing sheet.
  3. In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients.  Taste and adjust seasoning. 
  4. Scoop dip into hollowed out artichokes.
  5. If using, top with bread crumbs or grated cheese (or both)
  6. Bake 20 minutes until artichokes are hot and dip is bubbling.  Cheese and bread crumbs will be browned. 
  7. Serve as is or add in extra dippers like bread sticks.

How to Cook Artichokes:
  • Get out a large pot with a top. Cut off the bottom stem of each artichoke, leaving about 1/2 inch.  If there are sharp points at the tips of the leaves you can cut these with kitchen shears but I usually skip this step.  I also do not bother to snip the little outer leaves around the base. 
  • Before adding water to your pot, place the artichokes inside so they are standing on their cut stems.  This is to make sure each will fit and you can cover the pot.
  • Now add water.  You can steam artichokes and this is the fastest way to cook them- about 30-35 minutes. Boiling is also a good option and takes about 45 minutes. 
  • Test leaves for tenderness about midway through.  To test, grab the tip of an inner leaf, one about halfway up the stacked leaves, and tug.  If it comes out easily, taste it for tenderness.  You should be able to bite the leaf lightly and pull the flesh off between your teeth.  If it's too hard to pull away, keep cooking for another 10-15 minutes and test again. Use large tongs to hold onto artichoke as you pull out the leaf.  They are in hot water and will be quite hot to touch.

Now what?
  • Artichokes can be eaten right away.  See below for eating tips. If you want to make life really easy do what they do in Rome and let them cool before messing with them further. Refrigerate a few hours or overnight . 
  • When the artichokes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half lengthwise with kitchen sheers or a very sharp knife.  Use a spoon to remove the inner purplish-green leaves and the fuzzy choke.  You now have perfectly prepared artichoke halves with hearts and edible leaves intact. 
  • Serve cold with a mayonnaise or reheated with melted butter and lemon.  Reheat over a steamer or in the microwave for a minute or two. Try the recipe for hot spinach  dip served in artichoke halves.  Great as an appetizer you can make ahead or serve two for a vegetarian main course.
Eating Tips
  • Serve freshly steamed whole artichokes on a plate with a side of melted butter or mayonnaise mixed with a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.  Dip artichoke leaves and have a shared discard bowl available for the leaves.  No one likes a cluttered plate and you will need room for the best part-- the heart of the artichoke.  Once all the leaves are enjoyed, you are left with the 'choke' which looks like a fuzzy saucer with a tent of purplish-green leaves.  Pull away these leaves en masse then use a butter knife to scrape away the seed pods.  You are left with a little moon crater of goodness, the heart of the artichoke.  Cut this into bite-sized pieces and dip in the butter.  Pure heaven. 

Wine and Artichokes
  •  Cynarin, the acid in artichokes which creates its unique aftertaste makes artichokes notoriously hard to match with wines. Artichokes make the foods and drinks paired with them taste sweeter and this mixes up wine in particular.  For years experts recommended not serving wine with artichokes and in fact beer is not a bad idea.  Recently some bold oenophiles have started pairing sherry or very high acid, dry wines with the vegetable to balance out the cynarin effect.