There are certain types of vegetables where you can’t help but wonder who actually got the idea to try to eat them in the first place. Artichokes, the buds of a flowering plant that grows to be three feet tall, tend to be on that list, but whoever was brave enough to first give them a try made a delicious discovery. Once you get past their thorny exterior, they reveal tender leaves with a rich texture and a distinctive nutty flavor, but they can still seem somewhat daunting to even the most seasoned home cook.
“People are intimidated by artichokes because they see this vegetable that takes a little work to clean,” says chef Samuel Kim at 1789 Restaurant. “However, once the technique of turning artichokes is learned, it is quite easy to clean and enjoy them.” Preparing artichokes is actually pretty simple: wash them first to remove the bitter film on the leaves that can affect the flavor, then trim the pointy tips off the leaves and cut off about an inch from both the top and bottom.
Domenico Apollaro, executive chef at Lupo Verde, finds that outside of Italy, where artichokes are a commonly used vegetable, many are unsure about how to cook them. “To make it easier, I recommend cooking the artichoke upside down in a casserole with water, any spice like bay leaves, rosemary and lemon, and cook it until tender,” he says. “When ready, you can serve it as you like. I love to use it mostly on top of fish, salads or by itself.”
Indeed, while we often think of artichokes as being served steamed whole with melted butter to dip the leaves in, 1789’s Kim says, “I find that this water logs them and makes them somewhat mushy in texture.” He likes cooking them à la Barigoule by putting the cleaned artichokes into a large casserole dish with thyme, carrots, white wine and olive oil; cover tightly, then braise in a 300° degree oven until the artichokes are cooked through.
Artichokes lend themselves to a variety of cooking techniques. Bibiana chef Jake Addeo is partial to baby artichokes, which he prefers to showcase quite simply, fried to a crisp and topped with Italian parsley, lemon juice and olive oil, a classic technique that originated in the Jewish ghettos in Rome. “Another easy preparation is to shave raw chokes and toss with some lemon and mint vinaigrette,” says Addeo — creating a perfectly light spring salad.
Exploring artichokes through the eyes of a chef can open up a lot of possibilities. “I love them raw, cut into very thin slices and sautéed in a wok with some olive oil, seasoned with salt, and pepper and they are delicious,” says chef Josu Zubikarai of SER Restaurant in Arlington. Zubikarai also sees artichokes as a great vehicle for rich proteins, using them as a base for sautéed fresh foie gras or cooking them stuffed with lobster.
For Addeo, artichokes are much more than just an ingredient — they are a fond family memory. “My favorite recipe is always my Grandma Emily’s stuffed artichokes,” he says. “She made them for special occasions and you had to put your ‘order’ in before she started the process. I always ordered two. If you didn’t get your order in, you didn’t get any. This caused some great family fights at the dinner table!”
So grab a sharp knife, set aside your fears, and get to work — artichokes are on the menu tonight.
Nonna’s Stuffed Artichokes
Recipe by Chef Jake Addeo, Bibiana
This recipe serves up to 12, perfect for a dinner party or brunch.
12 artichokes, trimmed
10 large garlic cloves, chopped fine
6 cups seasoned toasted breadcrumbs
½ bunch each thyme, tarragon, mint, chopped
5 cups freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
5 cups freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
10 cups chicken stock
Lots of extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Rinse the artichokes in running water to moisten them, then bang the tops on a cutting board to open them up, creating an opening between the leaves for the stuffing. Arrange the chokes in a roasting pan big enough so they all fit snugly, drizzle lots of olive oil into the openings of the chokes making sure they are moist, then spread the garlic all around into each choke. Mix the cheese — reserving a handful — with the herbs and breadcrumbs, then carefully stuff each choke, making sure each leaf has a good amount of filling. Drizzle with olive oil again.
Bring the stock and the juice from the two lemons to a boil, along with the lemon rinds, and season with salt and black pepper. Pour the stock into the roasting pan until each choke is about 1/3 covered, then pour the remaining stock directly on top of the stuffed artichokes. Season with pepper and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, then cover with foil, allowing some room over the top to allow the chokes to steam as they roast. Roast in a 400° oven for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and roast for another 25-30 minutes or until they are tender at the base and browned on top. Serve with the roasting liquid.
Kristen Hartke is managing editor of Edible DC and writes about food and beverages both regionally and nationally. See what she’s cooking on Twitter: @khartke.