As you might have guessed, artichokes are one of our favorite vegetables. Steamed artichokes are such a pleasure to eat– picking the leaves off one-by-one, dipping them in lemon butter, and scraping off the good soft parts with your teeth. You first eat the larger outside leaves, moving toward the smaller leaves, until finally you scrape away the “choke” to reveal the prized artichoke heart. Mmmmm.
My mother made artichokes frequently, and I learned to cook them from her. She even grew a few plants in the backyard in Washington state, but we didn’t get enough to satisfy our appetite for this vegetable. Now I generally buy them at the supermarket, as local artichokes are rarely available around here. But I hope that, like many other vegetables that were once scarce, local artichokes will become more common as more farmers diversify their crops.
Since we like artichokes so much, it always surprises me to find out that not everyone cooks them as often as we do. Cooking artichokes is very simple; the only trick is to cook them long enough. I cook them for about 50 minutes to an hour, so that the fleshy part of the leaves is very tender– they just aren’t as good if they’re “al dente”. It is easy to see if they are cooked enough by pulling a leaf from the artichoke with a pair of tongs (or your fingers if you don’t mind the heat)– the leaf will come away easily when it is done. Taste the leaf too, to see if it is just the way you want. Serve one artichoke per person, with a small bowl of lemon butter or a lemon-olive oil for dipping the leaves. I like them served in this simple manner– this is good, slow food.
Using a heavy knife, remove the stem of the artichoke. Cut off the top inch or so of the artichoke to remove the prickly tips of the leaves. I use kitchen shears to cut the tops of the remaining leaves, but my mother used a knife at an angle to slice them away as she held the artichoke upside down. Pull off any small leaves at the base of the artichoke.
Bring the water to a boil, put the lid on the pot and reduce the heat to a low boil to cook the artichokes.
Cook for at least 45 minutes, or until a leaf pulls away easily. Lift the artichoke carefully from the pot with tongs and serve.