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An Artichoke “How To” and a Pilaf

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?

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