Artichokes are a pain to prepare but totally delicious to eat. I guess it could be argued that the effort needed to prepare this very expensive vegetable far outweighs the eating value of the vegetable. For me, they are only available for a few months in the summer and are well worth the effort.
They are a great starter for dinner parties as eating them takes almost as long as preparing them and gives guests time to chat and enjoy a glass of wine or two without spoiling their appetites for a more hearty main course.
Cut off the stem and the base head, also removing the smaller outer bracts [scales] of the artichoke, as close as possible to the main head – be careful not to remove too much of the heart which is the best part. Cut off the outer bracts until it is apparent that there is a useable swelling at the bottom of each – the base of these bracts are edible. Using a pair of kitchen scissors cut off the top of the head so that you can gain access to the centre or ‘choke’. I also like to cut the sharp tops off each of the bracts as they can be quite thorny.
A Peruvian friend tells me that in Peru, no further preparation is needed. They are cooked whole and diners must remove the beard or choke for themselves. I did try this method but, it quite spoiled my enjoyment of eating them so, I always remove the choke.
Prise open the centre of the head then, using a sharp spoon or a noisette spoon [ a strong melon baller]. Dig into the centre of the artichoke and remove the small bracts and all of the the beard. If you are preparing several heads, be aware that they discolour quickly. You can drop them into a bowl of cold salted or lightly vinegared water to keep them. Or you can sprinkle them with lemon juice. I find that, as with many vegetables, they can stain your hands and under your nails, staining which can last for several days in spite of frequent scrubbing. I find it useful to wear nitrile gloves when preparing them.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and place the artichokes in the water. Simmer gently for 30 – 40 minutes [depending on the size of the heads]. Remove from the water and drain well. Serve with Hollandaise sauce, vinaigrette or with butter, lemon and black pepper.
I have also found this method quite successful and much quicker to prepare: –
Cut off the stem, part of the base and the outer bracts as before. Then, using a strong sharp knife, cut away half to two thirds of the top, leaving the choke and the centre exposed. Cut the head in half down through the centre. This gives easy access for removing the choke and the fibrous inner scales or bracts and they can be easily removed with a sharp knife.
Place these artichoke hearts in a large sheet of greaseproof paper or tinfoil. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Add some fresh lemon zest and a knob of butter or two. Wrap the tinfoil or greaseproof paper to make an envelope. Bake in a preheated moderate oven [180ºC] for approx. 45 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and warm crusty bread and an excellent glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
You can also cook the whole, prepared artichokes in the oven, though do allow a longer time for cooking – 60 – 80 minutes.
Add some smashed garlic, olive oil, sea salt, crushed black pepper and the juice of half a lemon to the hollow in the centre of each head. Make sure the greaseproof paper or tinfoil envelopes are carefully sealed or the artichokes will dry out.