My love affair with artichokes is so well known by my family and friends that for my 21st birthday my mother painted me a painting of artichokes which now hangs in my lounge. The picture above was taken after lunch one day, when I decided to take a seat with the left over artichokes and make my way through a few more for dessert.
On Saturday I was planning a belated birthday dinner for a friend and popped into fruit and veg to see what was fresh and good. To my sheer delight they had a batch of beautiful artichokes, unusual at this time of year as they are a spring flower.
The traditional way of preparing artichokes by steaming them and serving them with mayonnaise or lemon butter does not suit me at all. I feel it dumbs down the intensity of the flavour and masks the subtleties of the aroma. The recipe which I always use is one I learned from my mother and is truly the most exceptional and simple way to prepare this amazing vegetable.
Select between one and two artichokes per person (I can eat four comfortably...) wash them thoroughly and trim the stalks flush with the base of the flower. You can also trim the stalks and cook them too if they are not too old or woody.
Place the artichokes into a thick bottomed pot, base down, flower up. Choose a pot which is just the right size so that they all fit snugly into the pot. They should not be able to wobble around. Sprinkle about ½ a tsp of salt over each artichoke so that the salt can trickle between the leaves. Pour a lot of good olive oil over the artichokes so that it runs through the flower and the bottom of the pot is well covered (about 1 Tbsp per artichoke). I usually go to town on the oil as the left over oil, after cooking, is beautifully infused with artichoke flavour and salt and is simply delicious.
Pour about 2cms of water into the pot and cook over medium heat with the lid on. Cooking can take a good 30mins to 45mins depending on the size and density of the flowers. Check if the artichokes are done by gently tugging on a leaf. If it comes away easily, they are done. For the best result all the water should have cooked away and the artichokes should fry for a while caramelizing the flesh underneath a little. However if all the water has cooked away before the flesh is soft and nutty, add a little more water and carry on cooking. Once done, remove from the heat and allow the artichokes to cool. They can be served warm or cold.
Serve the artichokes in the pot so as to allow you and your guests to use the oil in the pot to dip the leaves and heart into. Alternatively arrange on a platter and decant all the oil (scrape the bottom...) into a bowl for dipping. Serve this with crusty bread which you should use to mop up the oil.
This dish can also be quite a sexy meal to prepare for two as it is accompanied with lots of sucking and licking and sighs of delight as you eat this amazing dish.
PS – if you are not sure how to correctly eat an artichoke, click here for a step by step video clip.