I was about eight when I first remember eating an artichoke. My parents steamed a few. They set them up on plates with small bowls of mayonnaise and melted butter for dipping. Here I was at the kitchen counter looking at this beautiful, yet also ugly green thing with little spikes on the ends of the leaves. I was supposed to eat it? Mom and dad had a rule about food. You had to try everything. You don’t have to like it – liver, creamed turkey, coconut – but you gotta try it. They showed me and my brother how to hold the prickly end and use our lower front teeth to scrape the meat off the tender end. I fell in love for the very first time. The meat had a gentle flavor, almost overwhelmed by the the dipping options of mayo and butter. The closer to the heart we got the more tender and sweet the meat. Dad then showed us how to carefully scrape off the bristly choke to reveal succulent mouthfuls of the heart. The meat was not very filling and it took a bit of effort to get every bite, but what a treat!
Time warp forward about 12 years. My brother and I are sitting at his kitchen table in Austin. He had cooked about a half dozen artichokes in the back yard smoker. The leaf tips were brown and wrinkled, but the meat inside each leaf was soft, having been tickled with flavor from the smoking process. We spent what must have been hours catching up with each others lives and scraping the meat off every single artichoke leaf. The result was a lovely afternoon, an impressive pile of meat and hearts, and plans to make soup. The soup was simple – with all our efforts of the afternoon, all we had left to do was add garlic, cream and butter, then simmer for a bit. We continued talking while relishing every spoonful of soup. The cream of artichoke soup became yet another fond memory of mine closely tied to food.
Here is a simple method for preparing an artichoke on the stove top and enjoying it with some pleasant conversation. Each bite of artichoke never takes up so much room that you cannot talk with your mouth full!
1 large or 2 small artichokes
4 – 6 cups water
3 Tbsp plus 1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp plus ½ tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
4 Tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
Cut off stem of artichoke just below the leaves until it sits level. Chop off the pointed tip of the artichoke and use kitchen scissors to clip off the tips of the larger, lower, tougher leaves that have pulled away from the artichoke. In a deep pot with steamer basket add the water (it should come right to the bottom of where the steamer basket will sit), 2 Tbsp of the lemon juice, 1 Tbsp of the salt and all the black pepper. Bring water to a boil and add steamer basket, placing artichokes stem down in the basket, and cover. If artichokes cannot stand upright there are two alternatives: 1) they can be steamed laying on the side, but should be flipped half way through cooking, or 2) place the artichoke stem down, but use foil to cover and seal in the steam instead of the pot top. Turn down heat to medium-low, but make sure the water continues to gently boil. Steam for 30 – 45 minutes. You will need less time if the artichokes are smaller. The artichoke is ready when the center of the stem gives easily to a knife.
In a small pot add butter, 1 Tbsp lemon, garlic and 1/2 tsp salt. Melt over medium-low heat until butter is melted and bubbly. In a small bowl stir together 1 tsp lemon juice with the mayonnaise. Serve artichokes along with the two dipping sauces.
To eat the artichokes peel off leaves, dip them in your sauce of choice, and use your lower front teeth to scrape meat off then inside of each leaf. It helps to have an empty bowl nearby to collect the leaves when you finish with them. As you get closer to the heart the leaves will become smaller and more tender. You will be able to eat most of the leaf, carefully avoiding the prickly tips. When you finally get to the bristly choke, take a spoon and scrape off the bristles, revealing the heart. Scoop the heart out of the base and cut it into bite-size pieces. Dip and enjoy!