Monday, April 18, 2016

How to Prepare and Cook an Artichoke

Apparently it's artichoke season. Also, since we're lucky enough to live in the Monterey Bay area -- one of the primary artichoke-growing areas in the entire United States -- we get the privilege of seeing artichokes appear in our CSA boxes. (I'm still learning the specifics of what grows in my area seasonally, obviously.) That happened for the first time with the most recent box we received.

Seth had never eaten an actual intact artichoke before in his life. I've eaten them maybe once or twice as a child, but never actually prepared them all by myself, so this was kind of a first for both of us. I'm still kind of in shock as to how much I liked these. I probably shouldn't be though, as I tend to enjoy "interactive" foods like these -- foods that need to be disassembled a bit by using your hands before they can be eaten. And holy shit, were they ever delicious. 

Obviously, I wanted our introductory experience to artichoke eating to be as positive as possible, so I really did my homework beforehand to make absolutely sure I didn't fuck them up during the cooking process. I also researched the proper way to eat these things so that neither of us would be confused. Like I said, my most recent experience with these things was way back there in childhood at some point, so I didn't totally remember. (I found this video on how not to eat an artichoke wrong to be extremely helpful, just FYI. Seriously, watch it.)

As for cooking, I had my choices between baking, steaming, and boiling. I dislike boiling vegetables with a passion, since you're boiling away a lot of the flavor and nutrition in the process. Steaming sounded fine for these, but I really liked the idea of baking them much better, despite the fact that almost every resource I read recommended one of the other methods over that one. The main reason seemed to be that people have trouble with the 'chokes drying out during the baking process. Now... you know being able to cook stuff in the oven in such a way that it never gets dry is a point of pride for me, so I took that as a challenge to be accepted and conquered. 

And I'm glad I did, because I don't know how these could have come out any more perfect. They were tender, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. Not even a hint of dryness. Would eat again! In fact, I'm really hoping that when we get our box this week that there are more chokes in it, because yum.

  • Preheat your oven to 425 degrees so it's nice and hot by the time you finish the rest of your prep work.
  • Trim all the little pokey petal tips off of your artichokes. Most resources I looked at listed this step as optional, but I would do it. If you don't, you're going to stab yourself a bunch of times while you're trying to wash and season these things. 
  • Use a serrated knife to cut away the top 3/4 inch or so of the top of the artichoke. Also, give the stem a minor trim -- just a 1/2 inch or so. It doesn't seem like it, but the stem is actually part of the artichoke heart and that's the best part of a 'choke, trust me.
  • Wash your 'chokes really well under cold water. Separate the petals a bit with your fingers to make sure you get all the yucky dirt and sand out of there. No one likes sandy-ass veggies.
  • Season your artichokes by drizzling a little olive oil over them so it goes down into the petals. Then sprinkle a little kosher salt and fresh ground pepper down there as well. 
  • Now wrap these things in tin foil. Wrap them really, really super well, because that's the key to not having them dry out the way people worry they will. I used a double layer myself and there was zero leakage. Arrange your foil-wrapped artichokes in some kind of baking dish just in case though.
  • Bake the artichokes for an hour. Unwrap with care, because they're hot. Enjoy according to the instructions in that video I linked to above, because really... a visual of what to do and what not to do will be a million times more helpful than any directions I could possibly write for you.
Apparently you can stuff artichokes with just about anything you want as well. I hear bread crumbs and garlic make a great combination. I'd personally like to try making a sausage and bread crumb stuffing now that I've had these and know exactly what type of flavor and texture I'm working with, but there's lots of room to experiment. 

As for serving suggestions, I think I'm a fan of stuffing and/or seasoning your artichokes really well and enjoying them as a tasty side dish, as opposed to dipping the leaves in mayo like a lot of people seem to do. We ate ours along with some vegetarian chicken stir fry wraps and cheesy whole grain rice medley, but I can picture these going excellently with any sort of red meat in particular -- like a really nice steak or a burger. Pasta marinara, pizza, or any sort of Italian food would also be a really good choice, I'd imagine, as these have a real "special occasion" feel. Don't forget the red wine!
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