It’s spring! Time to commune with your favorite edible thistle!
If you’ve never had artichokes (other than possibly the frozen or marinated artichoke hearts), you’re in for a treat.
It’s a little bit of work to get those spiny pine cone looking things ready to eat, but once you start cooking your own artichokes, I predict you will be hooked.
Each leaf has a bit of “meat” that you scrape off with your teeth in an effort to get to the heart of the artichoke. That’s the prize waiting under all those layers.
The traditional French method of artichokes is a lovely steamed bulb served with creamy, lemony hollandaise sauce for dipping. I prefer Italian method of stuffing the artichoke with a combination of breadcrumbs, herbs, and cheese.
Here’s what you need:
Artichokes, Lemon, Garlic, Breadcrumbs, Olive Oil, Pepper, Parmesan/Romano Cheese, Blue Cheese (optional but SO good) and Salt (not pictured).
Put a large pot of water on the stove over high heat and bring it to a boil.
While you are waiting on the water to boil, prepare the artichokes by cutting the stem off and removing the very outer layer of small, hard leaves near the stem.
The stem is actually edible and quite good. If you want to eat it, trim away the outer green layer and cook it along with the artichoke bulbs.
With a very sturdy and sharp knife, carefully cut the top off each artichoke, about 1/2 – 1 inch, to expose the inner layers and heart.
Use scissors or kitchen shears to cut the tiny little thorn off the top of the remaining outer leaves.
Immediately rub all of the cut and exposed areas of the artichoke liberally with lemon. This will keep the artichokes from turning brown.
When the water comes to a rolling boil, add 1 Tablespoon of salt and the artichokes to the pot. Squeeze the remaining juice from the lemon into the pot and toss the lemon halves right in.
Boil the artichokes uncovered for 20-25 minutes or until the outer leaves are quite tender and easy to pull off.
You will notice that the artichokes float. I occasionally stop by the pot and push them under briefly with a wooden spoon. Some people suggest weighing them down with a plate to keep them submerged, but I’ve never had trouble letting them float with the occasional dunk.
While the artichokes cook, prepare the breadcrumb filling by finely mincing 2 small cloves of garlic. This is one of the few occasions where I pull out the garlic press to get really finely crushed garlic plus its juice.
Add the garlic to a small bowl with 1/2 cup of prepared bread crumbs. I happen to have the Italian seasoned bread crumbs here but plain will work just as well.
Add 2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil and stir it into the crumbs until you have the consistency of wet sand.
Season the bread crumb mixture with lots of cracked black pepper, any spices that like basil & oregano if you are using plain bread crumbs, and 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Stir to combine.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
When the artichokes are tender, take them from the boiling water to a quick ice bath. Placing them in a bowl filled with ice cubes and water will stop the cooking, shock them, and keep them green.
It also helps cool off the artichokes for easier handling. Drain each artichoke on a paper towel then turn one over and spread the leaves away from the center to expose the purple part or the choke.
Each of those little purple tinged leaves has a tiny little spine or thorn on it so they need to be removed. Use a spoon to gently scrape these tiny inner leaves up from the bottom, or artichoke heart.
They come up pretty easily using the spoon and also pinching them out with your fingers.
See? Little tiny, spiny, thorny, chokey bits.
Once they are removed, you can see the top of the artichoke heart also known as THE BEST PART!
Don’t worry about those little “hairs” on top of the artichoke heart. They can stay.
Use a spoon to fill the center of each artichoke with a bit of the breadcrumb mixture.
Then use your fingers to gently spread apart the outer leaves and drop some of the bread crumbs down in between the layers.
You could stop here for a traditional, and delicious stuffed artichoke. Put it in the oven, and be very happy. (By the way, sometimes when I’m making these with just the plain stuffing, I use melted butter instead of olive oil for extra flavor.)
OR you can go over the top and crumble up a bit of blue cheese (goat cheese is also amazing) and add it to the center and between a few of the outer leaves. I’m using about 2 Tablespoons of cheese per artichoke.
Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top of each stuffed artichoke to keep them moist and help them get a lovely golden brown topping.
Place the stuffed artichokes in a shallow baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the bread crumb topping is golden brown.
You can see that there is merit in both the melted blue cheese artichoke pictured above and the traditional Parmesan cheese artichoke pictured below.
To eat, peel off the outer leaves and scrape them on your teeth to remove the little bit of artichoke goodness (and any bread crumbs and cheese that are hanging on) found at the bottom of each leaf.
Pull and scrape, pull and scrape, pull and scrape all around the artichoke eating the little tasty morsel at the bottom and then discarding each leaf until you get to the center or heart.
Use a knife to cut the center into smaller portions and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
You’d also better hope that if I am in the room, I have my own artichoke. I am a big artichoke heart hog.
To me there is something very satisfying about preparing, cooking, and enjoying a whole artichoke. My dad and I used to make them when I was a kid and I’ve loved them ever since.
This is just a basic recipe…feel free to change up the cheese mixture, add a bit of ham or prosciutto to the stuffing, add some fresh herbs…the sky’s the limit!
Here’s the recipe: