There aren’t words in this language to express my love of artichokes. At my wedding I carried a bouquet of dried purple artichokes. And while I wasn’t marrying the chokes, my love for them is eternal. It will always be true. It will never die. You may think I’m just being silly, but they have a treasured place in my heart. And their hearts have a treasured place in my mouth.
On Friday afternoon Robert and Lola and I drove to Sequim, about an hour and a half from here, to pick up a case of artichokes at Nash’s Organic Produce. I didn’t get any pictures of the farm store, but it is most charming, and all the people I have ever dealt with there have been kind, helpful, and passionate about what they do. Here on Bainbridge Island, we have access to beautiful produce, but it comes at a cost. This is an expensive place to live, and a very expensive place to farm so we pay through the nose for the food that we get here. Nash’s farm is much more earthy than anything we have on the island and the prices are more than reasonable. For a small farm it is pretty large, if that makes sense, and they are able to devote land to crops that take up a lot of room, like artichokes. Usually their chokes are ready at the beginning of the summer but this year they had new plants in that weren’t producing until now. I have been waiting and waiting for them!
Lola and 22 pounds of artichokes
Today I finally got around to dealing with all 22 pounds of chokey goodness. A few years ago, my aunt Chris and I roasted 2 cases of them with shallots and canned them with a slice of meyer lemon in each jar. They were beyond fabulous. This year I decided I wanted to do that again, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on a pressure canner (necessary for canning artichokes) so I decided to try the same thing but to freeze them instead of can them.
Lola hung out with me for most of the time that I was trimming artichokes this afternoon. She collected the fuzz from the insides and has grand plans for making winter coats for her chickens out of it. Who knew that we could clothe our chickens with vegetable trimmings? I learn something new everyday!
Most people have never eaten an artichoke any way but steamed and this is so sad. Not that a steamed artichoke is bad, it just doesn’t do the vegetable justice. Think about the difference between a steamed carrot and a roasted carrot. Or a steamed potato and a fried potato. You get the idea. I think that preparing artichokes is intimidating to many people and the reason they so often don’t get the treatment they deserve. I will admit that it is time consuming, but once you get the hang of it it is not difficult. I am here to walk you trough the process (with pictures), and I promise you it is worth it. So worth it.
Start with an artichoke:
The artichokes I got from Nash’s were on the small side, not babies, but not like the huge ones you get at the grocery store. You can use any size. Smaller ones need less trimming, but you need to prepare more of them. And the taste of a fully mature choke is different from a younger one. All are good.
First thing you need to do is to break off all the tough outer leaves. The trick is to do this without losing all the meat on the end. To do this you need to break off the leaves part way down, leaving the end still attached. The first layer or two will come off completely, and that is okay, but as you get into the artichoke a little ways, be sure to leave the end attached. In this picture, the leaf on the left was all the way broken off (incorrect), and the one on the right is broken off at the correct place:
When you get to a point where the leaves feel tender you can stop pulling them off. Chop off the top third, or thereabouts, leaving whatever is tender. Next, check out the stem of your artichoke. Fresh, young artichokes have delicious stems and you can just peel them and cook them along with everything else. As artichokes get more mature the stems get stringy and unpleasant. Use your judgment. Most of the stems I got were long and tender. Use a sharp knife and trim off all the stringy bits. Also trim around the base of the artichoke to take off any tough skin or bits of leaf left on there.
Preparing an artichoke
Now, cut your artichoke in half lengthwise. Most with have a furry center with some sharp purple spines around it. This is the “choke”. All that needs to come out. Take your knife and insert it just under the furry stuff and cut it out. This takes a little practice but you will get the hang of it. Smaller, less mature artichokes might not have a choke and then you don’t have to do anything to the inside.
Inside an artichoke
Removing the choke
Depending on the size of the artichokes, I cut them into quarters or smaller.
Most recipes you will read tell you to put your cut artichokes into lemon water so they won’t discolor. This is a total waste of time. They will discolor when you cook them anyway, and it doesn’t make any difference in the way they taste.
Now for the roasting. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. When you have a good sized pile of trimmed and rinsed artichokes, put them into a big shallow pan (cast iron is good). I like to add some sliced up shallots, but you don’t have to. Toss them with a bunch of olive oil and salt. A grind of pepper is good too.
Ready for roasting
Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until they are brown and caramelized. They are wonderful just on their own or you can toss them with pasta, put them in an omelet or frittata, or serve them on bruschetta for an appetizer. Let me know what you do with them.
I trimmed and roasted almost my entire case of artichokes in about two hours. So, yes, it does take a while, but if you are just fixing enough for one meal it’s not too overwhelming.
P.S. A word to the wise: Eating copious amounts of artichokes, in any form, has been known to cause some indigestion. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.