An Artichoke “How To” and a Pilaf

April 8, 2011

It’s a challenge to avoid the huge artichokes in the markets right now.  Maybe not at your market, but mine has them planted right in front of the entrance, so you can’t miss them.  It’s sort of an in-your-face-buy-me display that changes depending on any number of factors that I won’t go on about right now.  I  can usually maneuver past them because they’re so expensive, and as much as I love them, I balk at $4 for one — especially when I can pick up a can of hearts to do something with much more easily.  And in the long run, it’s more safe when you think about tackling those chokes, isn’t it?

Artichokes have a dual personality in my opinion.  There’s the real McCoy — the one you steam in a pot, then enjoy with myriad detours to a bowl of warm lemon butter (never mayonnaise if you’re in this house) that each piece is dipped into, then scraped along your lower teeth.  I grew up eating artichokes like this and it was quite an occasion when my mother brought one home.  Then there are the little hearts, all taken care of, canned, bottled or frozen and ready for any number of delicious dishes.  Thank goodness these choices are available, because waiting until artichoke season to enjoy them would be a problem for me at this point.  I love artichokes.

As I recall the image of our family of five seated around the kitchen table with one huge artichoke and a bowl of lemon butter, I have to wonder.  I always looked forward to it, but do the math.  Not many bites for each of us even when taking into consideration my sister probably didn’t like them.  This occasion for artichokes was never a precursor to dinner.  It was all about that artichoke — savored petal by delicious petal.  Bear in mind the petals were never trimmed, so dealing with the spikes on those tough outer petals involved a lot of caution after the first thumb prick, or a silent sucking it up for each subsequent prick.

It occurs to me we never ate the heart — or at least I don’t remember that we did.  Maybe my stepfather sneaked away with it after we’d lost interest because the lemon butter was gone.  I can see him now, perhaps standing at the kitchen counter enjoying the fact that the hard work had been done by us, and all he had to do was take a spoon, scrape away the fuzzy choke, then savor that amazing heart without having to share.  Denying us awareness of something wonderful.  Scarring us for life.

I could ask my mother about what happened to all those years of artichoke hearts, but she’d say she doesn’t remember.  There would be a few seconds of silence before she’d add she probably threw them away.  Can you imagine?  I can, because I threw them away, too, until I discovered marinated artichoke hearts sometime in my early 20s and put two and two together.  I had no clue they could be eaten.

If they weren’t such a challenge and expense, I’d enjoy them fresh more often in dishes like this lovely pilaf made with rice, orzo, pine nuts, and saffron.

Are you an artichoke lover?  If so, how do you prepare them?


Artichoke Pilaf

1/4 c. olive oil

1/2 c. whole wheat orzo

1 c. onion, shopped

1/4 c. pine nuts

2 c. Arborio

4 cooked artichoke hearts, chopped coarsely (see preparation below)

4 c. water

large pinch saffron

pinch of salt

freshly ground pepper

One way to prepare the artichokes…

Slice off the top inch or so of each artichoke and discard.  Remove the tough, darker exterior petals that surround the lower portion removing as many as needed to expose light green petals.  Trim the stem off completely, or if desired, leave it in tact, but trim the end and peel the length.  Using kitchen scissors, trim the thorns from the remaining petals.  Spread the center petals to expose the fuzzy choke.  Using a spoon with a semi-pointed shape, scrape the fuzzy choke completely from the center.  Rub all trimmed surfaces with lemon to prevent discoloration while you trim the remaining artichokes.

My way to prepare the artichokes…

Skip all the trimming, or at the minimum, slice off a bit of the top of the artichoke, and using kitchen scissors, remove the spiky ends of the petals.

Fill the bottom of a large pot or kettle with several cups of water.  Place the trimmed artichokes and two halves of a lemon into a steamer basket.  Put a lid on the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling, lower the heat to keep a simmer going, and cook until the stem is tender when pierced, about 45 minutes.

Pull off the petals to enjoy with the dip of your choice.

Once down to the crown and stem, trim of any excess that may be tough, and chop coarsely.  Set aside.

To prepare the pilaf…

Heat oil in a medium sauce pan.  Add the orzo, onion and pine nuts, stirring until until onions are softened a bit — 3 minutes.  Add the Arborio, stirring to coat with the oil.  When it turns translucent, add the chopped artichokes, water, and saffron.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover.  Allow to cook slowly without stirring until the liquid is evaporated, about 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, then using a fork, fluff a bit.  Replace the cover and remove the pan from the heat, allowing it to sit for another 20 minutes before serving.

Removing the top third seems wasteful to me

 

artichoke wrestling

Removing the choke before cooking is a bit challenging

I probably should have removed that tag...

The petals closest to the choke are so tender

The choke comes out easily with a spoon

 

All done!

Notes:

  • Ocean Mist Farms has excellent information about artichokes in general.  There are some great recipes included as well.
  • When I set out to cook the artichokes, I wasn’t sure about what I’d put in them, but wanted to experiment with basic preparation.  Along the way, I pulled out the French Laundry cookbook and entertained using their method of preparation which essentially puts the artichokes into a stew of sorts — artichokes in liquid with other vegetables and seasonings to provide flavor and prevent discoloring.  Although this initially appealed to me, the method of preparing the artichokes for that stew didn’t.  Removing all but 1/3 of the artichoke and nearly all of the petals, then digging out the raw choke seemed ridiculous.  Not only was I annoyed by the sheer waste of most of a perfectly good artichoke, digging out the choke while that vegetable was raw is quite the challenge.  I tried it with two of my four artichokes, sacrificing only 1/3 of the top and removing not so many of the petals before deciding to stop.
  • At this point, a good compromise for me would be to place the artichokes whole in Chef Keller’s “stew,” enjoy the petals as we normally would, then prepare the hearts as I’ve described above.
  • The pilaf recipe was adapted from one published in Susana Hoffman’s The Olive and the Caper:  Adventures in Greek Cooking (Workman, 2004), a wonderfully rich resource I recently added to my cookbook collection.  It is a pleasure to read for more than the rich assortment of recipes from Cyprus, Crete, The Cyclades and The Ionian Islands as well as mainland Greece.  It is packed with cultural tidbits, historical legends and fact, as well as geographical information about Greece.  Detailed information about how to fold and stuff filo includes a recipe to make your own.  Recipes for savory pies, delicious soups, a rich variety of pilafs, breads, sauces, and traditional puddings will have you thinking about more than tzatziki or an Americanized Greek salad.  It is truly an exceptional resource.

More Artichoke Recipes:

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

jacquie April 9, 2011

using whole artichokes always looks as though it requires a lot of patience and i’m not sure i have that in me right now. however, the pilaf looks amazing so would you know if the frozen ones in the store are already cooked? and if so could i just jump into the recipe at that point? thanks.

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kellypea April 9, 2011

I’m with you on the patience. When I tackle something like this, it’s just to reconsider what I know, and try to learn new things. In this case, it didn’t take long to decide I’m just fine with my old perspective :) You could use either canned or frozen artichoke hearts for this. The frozen hearts are raw (and edible that way) but putting them in at the same point I put mine in is fine. I wouldn’t chop them up before hand since they’re not as meaty as the hearts I used and considering this recipe is designed to serve 6 (large servings) you might consider more than one frozen package.

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Adele April 9, 2011

Artichokes have always been a favorite of mine since I was little. We always looked forward to Easter because we knew Mom would be serving chokes. Stuffed Artichokes was a treat that my Grandmother served.
One of the favorites in my house has always been a Pork and Artichoke Stew. We also love Artichoke Soup, but this is time consuming to make and expensive.
I like them with chicken and if serving them braised or boiled with a dip, and happen to have any left over, I scrape the leaves for use in sauces. I cut up the hearts and use them in various ways, such as pizza, brushetta, in omelets and pasta dishes. If you love them their is so many ways to use this vegetable.

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kellypea April 9, 2011

So many wonderful ideas — thank you! The stew sounds delicious, and you’ve got my curiosity piqued over the soup. I’ve never scraped the petals for a sauce before, but can imagine it being as time intensive as dissecting the whole artichoke. It’s such a great flavor, rolling up my sleeves to try something new is rarely disappointing.

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Joanne April 9, 2011

I adore artichokes though I’ve never cooked with whole ones myself. Whenever they were on sale, my mother would scoop them up and stuff them with this luscious breadcrumb mixture so that we each got one and every time you pulled off a leaf, you got this fabulous carb/parm-rich filling with it. It was beautiful. And then we did eat the hearts, right out of the choke.

This pilaf looks absolutely delicious! I really need to tackle artichokes in my own kitchen and stop being such a baby about it!

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kellypea April 9, 2011

I keep meaning to stuff them like you’ve mentioned, will mark a recipe and then never get around to making it. Who knows what happens.

This pilaf is easily made like I mentioned above using prepared artichokes. I think sun-dried tomatoes and olives would add a nice touch as well.

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kellypea April 9, 2011

I keep meaning to stuff them like you’ve mentioned, will mark a recipe and then never get around to making it. Who knows what happens.

This pilaf is easily made like I mentioned above using prepared artichokes. I think a sun-dried tomatoes and olives would add a nice touch as well.

Reply

Lori April 10, 2011

First off, the pilaf looks delicious. Definitely a must try now that the artichokes are in season. I’m curious as to where you found whole wheat orzo? I’ve been looking but haven’t been able to find it in my local stores.

Artichoke season was always a big deal in my house as well with a similar sitting around the table scene as you had. Sometimes the artichoke was part of the meal, sometimes not. My mom always served them with mayo, which began to wear on me to the extent that I began melting butter when I was able to beat her to the punch. Artichokes were a bit of a joke too. “Artie Chokes 3 for $1″ was the punchline to some joke heard somewhere in my parents’ circle of friends back in the 70s. For years, my sister and I had to endure the weekly announcement when my mom or dad read the newspaper and saw the ad for artichokes. The real zinger came the day my mom told me how much she loved artichokes as a child, but she always had such a hard time eating the choke. This puzzled me until she revealed that she didn’t know you were supposed to remove the fuzzy stuff before eating. For years she choked down the choke!

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kellypea April 10, 2011

GREAT story! So funny when you start thinking about how we grew up eating what we did and how it was presented. My family has never been big on mayo for anything — especially as a dip, but I’m thinking a flavorful homemade aioli — essentially mayo, right? — could be good. I like it on other roasted veggies, so why not? I’m cringing over thinking about those chokes. Literally! Thanks for taking the time to share — really appreciate it.

I got the whole wheat orzo at Henry’s which is a bit like Wild Oats market — or Whole Foods on a much, much smaller scale. Henry’s is a San Diego local chain that has been here for quite a long time. I like the this orzo much more than any other whole wheat pasta product because the texture is nice.

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El April 12, 2011

Thanks for all of the great information about preparing artichokes. I definitely needed it and had no idea how to cut one up. The orzo recipe looks sensational as well.

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