Artichokes are not the most inviting of all vegetables. The spiny leaf tips prick our fingers and the downy interior choke can literally make us gag and cough if swallowed. But once you work past all that, artichoke hearts are one of the most delicious, tender, and even beautiful vegetables around! Here's how to get them ready to cook.
What You Need
1 or more artichokes
A bowl of water
Sharp paring knife
Melon baller or grapefruit spoon (a regular spoon will do in a pinch)
1. Cut the lemon into quarters and squeeze the juice into the bowl of water. Drop three of the quarters in the water and keep one back on your work surface. Artichokes start to brown very quickly, and acidulated water helps slow the process down. Once you've finished cutting the artichoke, it's good to rub it with fresh lemon juice and then hold it in the water while you finish preparing the rest.
2. Snap off all the tough outer leaves. It's easiest to use your fingers for this step. Just work around the artichoke, snapping off the outermost leaves, until you reach the leaves that are almost completely yellow and feel softer than the outer ones.
3. Use your paring knife to trim off the green outer skin around the base of the artichoke, including the stem. The stem is actually an extension of the artichoke heart and very yummy. Finish by cleaning up all the broken edges left from snapping off the outer leaves and cutting a half-inch or from the end of the stem. Rub the outside with your lemon to keep it from browning.
4. Cut off the top inch or so of the artichoke. This should take off all the pointy ends and any remaining green, leaving behind only yellow leaves. The "choke" of the artichoke is that bundle of silky white and purple leaves you see in the middle. Below those leaves is a bed of hairy-looking filaments. You want to remove the choke entirely because it will make you gag and cough if you swallow it, even after cooking.
5. If you want to leave the artichoke whole for stuffing or any other reason, just use your melon baller or grapefruit spoon to scoop out all of the choke. Scoop out the flowery parts first and then scrape the bed of the artichoke to get up the hairy bits.
6. Alternatively you can cut the artichoke in half and then scoop out the choke. This is a bit easier because you can see what you're doing.
7. When you're finished, rub the outside with the lemon and then keep it in your bowl of lemon-water while you prepare the rest of your artichokes and any other dinner prep. The water will keep the artichokes from browning so quickly and will also wash off any bits of loose choke.
• Buy artichokes that feel heavy for their size and with tightly compressed leaves. Smaller artichokes will likely be more sweet and tender than the larger ones.
• Store artichokes in the fridge. We find they generally keep for a week or longer if we don't get to them right away.
• Artichokes can be left whole if you just want to steam them. Cut an inch or so off the top and snip the prickly leaf tips with a pair of kitchen shears before steaming. The artichoke is ready when one of the lower leaves pulls out easily. Dip the bottoms in your dipping sauce of choice and pull of the meaty parts with your teeth.
• Artichokes prepared as above can be steamed, fried, roasted, or grilled. We love them in pasta sauces or as a vegetable side dish tossed with a simple vinaigrette.
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(Images: Emma Christensen)