kitchen firsts: steaming an artichoke
I grew up in a house where artichokes did not set foot. As a fairly picky child (slash adolescent…) I always thought they were weird looking and definitely not something I was interested in eating. As I have become less picky, I sometimes deign to eat the occasional artichoke heart on a pizza, or spinach and artichoke dip, but not that enthusiastically, and until now, I had never dared buy and eat an actual fresh, real artichoke– I was hardly even aware that such a thing was possible. But then Stephen came along and explained to me that it was not only possible, but enjoyable and, what’s more, an excuse to dip something in butter! Oh dear.
Over the last year (or three), artichoke season has rolled around and then passed me by a few times, and I’ve ignored Stephen’s ever-more beggy urgings to buy one and cook it up so I could experience it! So, now that artichoke season is starting up again, I decided to just go get one and cook it up and see!
I was expecting, with the rave reviews from Stephen and the whole butter dipping thing and the fact that in general, anything you cook yourself rather than eating from a jar is ten times more delicious, that this would be a complete and utter artichoke awakening for me, and that I would from now on be totally in love with artichokes in all their forms and be a complete convert. In truth, that did not happen. My first bites were sort of unimpressive, and I actually found the whole dipping in butter thing a little more rich than I could handle. But Stephen said I had to keep going, and I do have to admit that even though I wouldn’t call myself an artichoke lover, the deeper you go, the more tender and flavorful they get, and I was truly enjoying it when we got to the inside petals. And even if artichokes aren’t my favorite, they really were much tastier than jarred artichoke hearts, even if for no other reason than the fact that we steamed it ourselves and it’s a fun hands-on eating experience! I may not be rushing to get another one tomorrow, but I will definitely try this again, perhaps a little further into the season (it starts in March and continues through spring and even into summer) when they might be a little more in their prime. I am also thinking of trying out some different dipping sauces next time– some people do mayo or flavored mayo, and I’m thinking something along those lines would be fun to try!
So, a few notes for those of you who, like me, have never done this before. In general, steaming any food is about as simple as sticking it in a steamer basket over some boiling water and letting it go. But there is just a thing or two to know about doing this with an artichoke. First, you should know it needs to be trimmed and washed correctly (instructions to follow) before you steam it up. The other thing I learned (via simplyrecipes.com) is that the flavor is nicely and subtly improved by putting a bay leaf, a wedge of lemon, and a clove of garlic into the steaming water. To me this sort of made the outermost artichoke petals taste like some kind of weird vegetable tea, but the inner leaves were great and the smell coming from the kitchen while this was steaming was heavenly. Does anybody have any other artichoke tips to share? If you’ve never had one before, or never tried it with bay, lemon, and garlic, give it a shot!
How to Steam an Artichoke
1 bay leaf
1 slice lemon
1 clove garlic
First, prep your artichoke. Clip the spiky points from the outer leaves with kitchen scissors, cut about an inch off the top, and trim the stem a little closer to the base, leaving about an inch (you can trim it all the way off if you want, but it actually tastes good so we keep it). Then pull off some of the little runty leaves around the stem and bottom of the artichoke. When it’s all prepped, run it under some cold water to get it nice and clean.
Place the artichoke in a steamer basket in a pot large enough to accommodate it, and add water up to just under the steamer basket. Toss your clove of garlic, slice of lemon, and bay leaf into the water under the basket. Then crank the heat up to high and bring to a boil before reducing heat and letting it simmer, about 35-45 minutes depending on the size of your artichoke. You can just pull a leaf or two off and taste it to see if it’s tender enough. When it’s ready, remove the artichoke from the pot and serve with melted butter. To eat it, you just pull off the leaves and scrape your teeth across the pulpy stuff. The closer you get to the center of the artichoke, the more tender the leaves will be and the more pulpy artichoke will be available to eat (some of the inner leaves you can just eat the whole thing). Continue until all the petals are gone, and then you can scrape out the fuzzy bits around the heart, cut it into pieces and eat it! We were too distracted eating it to photograph this part, so if you’re confused on how to eat it you can see a good visual here. Enjoy!