Cooking with artichokes

How do you properly prepare fresh artichokes? I’ve eaten canned and frozen artichokes and I’ve always wanted to try to cook them when they come in season, but they seem complicated.

Springtime and early summer are just the season for a surprise package of low-calorie, high-fiber eating from the California coast. Artichokes are edible flower buds and one of the oldest foods known to mankind. They look mysterious in the produce bin, but artichokes are quite easy to prepare and eat. Look for artichokes with compact leaves that are firm and heavy for their size.

The easiest method is to trim the stem and place the whole artichoke into three inches of boiling water. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a petal near the center pulls out easily. Stand upside down to drain.

Serve whole artichokes, hot or cold, as an appetizer. Begin to eat by pulling off outer petals one at a time. Dip the base of each petal into a flavorful vinaigrette made from vinegar, broth, extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic and basil.

Pull the lower part of the petal through your front teeth to remove the soft, pulpy portion. Discard the remaining tough part of each petal. Inner petals become more and more soft for eating. When you get to the center, cut or scrape off the hairy-looking choke fibers and bite into the heart. The artichoke heart is a surprise bonus. Cook and eat an artichoke with someone you love. It is both sensuous and romantic.

Artichokes can also be a main course. They are perfect for stuffing with cooked pilafs or cooked vegetable mixtures, and baking for 45 minutes at 350° F. However, first you have to prep the artichoke for stuffing: With a large, sharp knife, cut off the stem and the top third of the bud end. With a kitchen shears, snip off the sharp tip of each petal. As you work, rub all cut surfaces with a lemon half to prevent them from turning dark. You can peel, cook and chop the stem and add it to the stuffing.

Plunge the trimmed artichoke into boiling water and blanch 10 minutes. Remove and drain. It is not fully cooked at this point. With a sturdy spoon, scoop out the center leaves and the fuzzy choke and discard. Stuff the center with a cooked pilaf or cooked vegetable mixture. Then spread the outer petals and push the stuffing down between them. Place the stuffed artichokes into a baking dish, sprinkle with broth, and bake for 45 minutes at 350°F. Cover if it browns excessively.

You can also plunge the trimmed artichoke into boiling water and cook for 30 to 40 minutes. Scoop out the center leaves and fuzzy choke. Chill for one hour. Fill the center with a creamy dip, shrimp salad or tuna salad and serve as an appetizer or luncheon dish.

Any way you cut and serve a California artichoke, you have a fun food filled with a surprise bonus and packed with good nutrition. And they taste wonderful!

What you have in your mind?