I’d arrived two weeks earlier from the Midwest and had no idea what the vegetable was that had been placed on the coffee table by our Northern California friends. It was green, it seemed to have some sort of leaves and there was a small dish of mayonnaise next to it alongside an empty bowl. Not only did I not know what it was, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. Then my friend asked, “Do you know how to eat an artichoke?” This started my long love of artichokes, but it didn’t mean that for the next year, I still didn’t mix up avocados and artichokes and have to remind myself which was which. Where I’d come from, we didn’t see a lot of avocados or artichokes in the grocery store. I saw some of the brightest, longest, most luscious string beans a Midwest farm could create, plump black raspberries that came into their own one week and left within a two-week time frame, and I saw lots and lots of bright yellow sweet corn in August, but never an artichoke.
For several years after eating that first artichoke, I was scared to try cooking one. The cooking directions I’d found were long and intimidating. There were special washing instructions and a whole series of trimming instructions before it ever came time to cook the artichoke. Eventually, I just bought one and tried cooking it without doing much of anything, and it turned out just fine.
Here’s what I do:
- Rinse the artichoke
- Simmer the artichoke for about 25 minutes in a pot of water with a closed lid
To eat the artichoke:
- Pull a leaf off. Hold the top of the leaf (the sharp edge) and dip the whitish edge in mayonnaise.
- Scrape the “meat” off the leaf by biting down on the leaf and sliding your teeth across the leaf.
- Discard the leaf shell in a bowl.
- Repeat until there are no more leaves on the artichoke and only the heart remains.
- Cut the stem. Cut the fuzzy part off, and slice up the remaining heart and eat it.
I’ve had wonderful artichokes in nice restaurants. They are sometimes roasted with lemon and served with fancy aioli dipping sauces. In those cases, restaurants trim the artichoke. The chef will slice off the top and most of the stem, and then trim off each of the sharp edges on the tips of the leaves. Sometimes I trim the sharp edges, but most of the time after the artichoke is cooked, the sharp edges aren’t much of a problem, so I just leave them on.
After a few years of eating artichokes, I tried to grow an artichoke plant. I bought a bare root plant in winter and by spring, there were artichokes shooting out of it. Much like my technique for cooking an artichoke, my technique for growing an artichoke was not very sophisticated. Nonetheless, after the second year, the artichoke plant was a prolific producer, proving that the key to both growing and cooking artichokes is to avoid reading any directions.