If you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh artichokes now is the time to get these thistles. Spring is the official season for artichokes and with farmers’ markets full of them, it’s good to know how to quickly cook them for a weeknight dinner without having to boil a pot of water or turning on the oven.
How do you pick the best artichoke at the market? Look for ones with the petals (these are flower buds, you know) that haven’t opened much and listen for squeaking when you give them a gentle squeeze. This applies for any size of artichoke, the ones you see here would qualify as large. Medium to large artichokes are some of the best for steaming. With luck you will find artichokes with some stem like these which is great because the stem is edible and similar in texture to the artichoke heart.
Before starting, prepare a microwave-safe dish — I use a glass one– with about 1/2-inch of water with a dash of lemon juice or white vinegar. Artichokes will oxidize and the acid will prevent them from turning brown. Also don’t forget to give these flower buds a rinse! They are from the outdoors and it’s best to rinse them of any contaminants (mine obviously had a visit from a birdy…).
If you’ve ever worked with fresh artichokes you know they have little thorns so use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the tips of the petals off. The top of the bud doesn’t need to be trimmed because you will be cutting off the top inch or so.
Don’t throw away that stem! Pull off any small leaves, slice off the old cut end and then use a pairing knife or vegetable peeler to peel the stem.
When you have peeled the stem, roll it around a bit in your prepared water to keep it from coloring. I’m only preparing two artichokes here but this method would apply to as many as you need to prepare (think bigger glass casserole dish!). Keep the water in the dish and cover with plastic wrap.
For two large artichokes, start with 10 minutes in the microwave and then check them for doneness. Time should be about 10-13 minutes depending on your microwave. Add time for more artichokes. CAREFULLY pull back the plastic wrap (there’s hot steam under there!) and use a fork or paring knife to poke gently, if it easily slides into the flesh, it’s done. If there’s resistance, recover and return to the microwave for a few minutes.
To clean the thistle out of the artichoke, turn them on their base and remember there’s still steam in there so they are HOT. Be careful. Let them cool a little if possible. Then 1) gently “open” the choke, 2) pull out the center smallest petals which still have spikes at which point 3) you should see purple petals which you 4) should use a spoon to gently scrape out including the little hairy bits.
If you’re feeling fancy these can be filled with a dipping sauce (like aioli or mayonnaise if you’re feeling lazy) or at this point you can put them on the grill, petal side down, for some extra flavor and char.
My husband and I enjoyed them as is with dipping sauce on the side. I mixed crushed garlic, fresh lemon juice, mayonnaise, kosher salt and harissa infused olive oil to make a dipping sauce. Melted salted butter, plain olive oil or a vinaigrette would also be great as a dipping sauce.
For those unacquainted with eating these, you simply pull off a petal and use your bottom teeth to scrape off some of the soft flesh. As you make your way to the more tender petals there’s more and more of the soft flesh to enjoy before you get the always wonderful artichoke heart.