Thursday, June 16, 2011

Considering the Artichoke

I'd like to know how hungry the first person was that looked at this and said: "Yeah, that's for eating."

Didn't Luke Skywalker almost get thrown into one?

Now, before you think that my husband wrote this post, non-fan that he is of all things green or pointy, you should know that once cut, I think artichokes are one of the prettiest things nature has made.

You should also know that I am a midnight marinated artichoke heart snacker. (Basically anything soaked in vinegar, really, qualifies for this late-night pickle insomnia.)

Because I had seen a simple illustration of a chef holding the artichoke by its stem and effortlessly slicing through the tips of the leaves at a 45-degree angle so that all that was left was the edible part, I assumed I could do so as well.

Effortless, it is not. Straight knife, round vegetable:

How do they avoid creating flat sides?
Of course, once we slice in half, the view gets simultaneously better and worse.

Having caught a bit of the choke in my throat during an ill-fated visit to Olive Garden a decade ago, I know enough, even in my artichoke virginity, to respect the choke. First attempts to scrape it out with a spoon were none too successful.
There is indeed a spoon in there. It's just past the HORROR.

Quick tip # 1: Use a spoon with a thin, almost sharp edge. Think $.50 thrift store measuring spoons.

Now artichokes quickly go the way of avocados when exposed to the air. Having a slice or two of lemon to rub the cut edges with will help avoid browning, but if you're like me and completely new at this, you won't rub the lemon onto the artichoke until you see it begin to brown. At which point the damage is done.

Tip # 2: Lemon before browning.

And another idea that was a good one on the drawing board but failed in initial product testing, why not tuck those little slices into the hollow made by removing the choke? Look at how neatly they fit in there.
Why yes, this IS the rice pot. Why do you ask?
Which would be a brilliant idea if I were roasting the artichokes. Since I had already pushed dinner back an hour or so, I opted for the fast-boil-in-a-flavorful-liquid method.

This is my favorite old but new to me trick: (# 3) Use your metal steamer basket to hold food under the water. Right-side up or upside-down, both work like a dream.

Right-side up does feature a convenient handle:

In the pot I have half of a red onion, three tablespoons of butter, the last third of a lemon, my artichoke halves, salt, pepper, and enough water to cover. After 10-15 minutes of simmering, they were soft enough to eat. Because I am incapable of eating anything without vinegar, I doused the halves with rice wine vinegar while they waited for the boiling liquid to reduce. And, naturally, added a shot to the boiling liquid.

Tip #4: It will take forever for the boiling liquid to reduce. The time you save by boiling (a.k.a. the lazy braise) you will lose by reducing the liquid. Be prepared to enjoy room-temperature artichokes.

The artichoke itself could probably have stood for a stronger cooking liquid from the outset, but there was nothing to complain about come dinnertime. And the sauce? Oh! The sauce. As a firm believer in the fork=left hand, knife=right hand dining method, a lover of place settings, pretty pitchers over milk jugs, and cloth napkins, I'm ashamed but justified to tell you that, elbows on the table, I drank that sauce. After, of course, I dipped each leaf and scraped off the meat. After, of course, I cut up the heart into little pieces so I could maximize the sauced-surface area. After, of course, I soaked my serving of broccolette and asparagus in it.

And after Matty had finished, I drank his portion too.

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