Friday, March 5, 2010
The Art of Artichokes
Artichokes are a very sensuous vegetable, and best eaten by candlelight. My husband introduced me to them 14 years ago, and when they’re in season, we eat them a few times a week. The process of eating them is like a spiritual ritual because they're way more than a vegetable. Artichokes are an experience like no other food.
The key is buying the right artichoke. You don’t want limp, withered leaves. Look for tight, firm globes. That’s a good indicator that there’s a lot of meat at the bottom of the leaves and in the heart.
Steam or simmer them, but be careful not to let the hearts turn to mush. (Click here for a pictorial of how to prepare artichokes from Simply Recipes.) The centers should be firm yet easily penetrated with a knife. Melt some butter in a bowl and pour balsamic vinegar in another. Set the artichokes and dips on the table, along with lots of napkins, and a fork and a knife and a plate.
Peel back an outer leaf. Dip the bottom in the butter and then the vinegar, then scrape it between your teeth. Repeat this process layer after layer after layer. There won’t be much meat on the outer leaves, but good things come to those who wait. Artichokes are a lesson in faith and patience. Faith that the heart is there under all the leaves and patience in knowing that getting to the heart is part of the fun.
As the leaves come off and your teeth scrape away each luscious layer, you’ll find the sweet spot – the heart, the place you’ll pledge your undying love for this awesome vegetable.
But like some medieval video game, before you can eat the heart, you must get past the choke – that fuzzy, dangerous layer. It’s astringent in the mouth and will stick in your throat like cat fur. Ingest it and I guarantee it will interrupt your artichoke experience. However, if you trim the choke just right by shaving it clean with your butter knife (sorry, there was no other way to word that), you’ll be rewarded with a heart so opulent and true it’ll make you weep.
Cut the heart into four or more pieces and dip each in the butter and then the vinegar. Chew slowly. Shut your eyes, even. Enjoy each succulent taste. Don’t rush it. Slow is best (remember patience).
And that, my friends, is how you eat an artichoke. (Just don't smoke a cigarette after eating one, although you might feel like it...just sayin'.)