When one looks at a raw artichoke with no knowledge of what it holds, one wonders how the first person ever decided to eat one. It is too easy to be discouraged by its exterior resemblance to its close relative the thistle. Most of the edible matter of the artichoke is buried deep beneath many layers of spiny scales. But if one is patient, one can strip off thin ribbons of delicately flavored flesh from the base of each scale. Then, when those scales are gone, one removes the hairy 'choke' and eats the fleshy heart of the artichoke.
Artichokes have a delicious 'nutty' flavor. They are good sources of several vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, silica and calcium. And in terms of flavor, they are the most desirable of vegetables.It is easy to be intimidated by the preparation requirements, expecially the process of removing the spines. You need a good kitchen sheers to snip off the spines, though a wire cutter might work as well. You can do it with a knife, but it's no fun.
Place the globes on a rack in a steamer and steam for 40 minutes. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve with a ramekin of melted butter. Peel off the scales one by one, dip them in butter, and strip off the tiny morsel of food each offers. The artichoke served this way is a perfect appetizer for a romantic dinner. They can also be steamed in the microwave, about 8 minutes each. (obviously, if one is cooking more than 3 artichokes it makes more sense to steam them.)
The number of opportunities to use these is large. Almost any green salad can be improved by the inclusion of marinated artichoke hearts. And almost any luncheon that features sandwiches can be improved in the same way.
Unfortunately artichokes have stringy nature. Because of this they are very difficult to incorporate into purees, soups, and sauces unless one is willing to put the puree through a fine mesh strainer. But if one is willing to do this, they can add a subtle nutty flavor that will improve many sorts of pureed vegetables and soups. Even a simple cream of artichoke soup is a thing of great culinary beauty.
Do not confuse this vegetable with the 'Jerusalem Artichoke' which is really the root of a perennial sunflower. The 'Jerusalem Artichoke' or sunchoke also has a nutty flavor. Its starch molecules are long, and it is used as a replacement for potatoes among diabetics because it breaks down into sugars slowly.
The sunchoke may prove better for purees and soups because of its smooth texture.
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.