Friday, September 28, 2012

Artichoke with vinaigrette

Per person:

1 large artichoke

1/2 lemon (juice of half a lemon; 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon mustard - I like the grainy kind, but you can use whatever you like
1 medium garlic clove
a sprinkle of salt, to taste

Rinse your artichoke(s) under cold water, and put in a steamer to cook.

If you don't have a steamer, do as I did - place them in a pot with a lid and pour water so that it will be about half an inch deep.

Steam away on high heat (make sure the water does not evaporate away; check every five minutes!) and turn the artichokes over once or twice.

Undercooked artichoke is highly, highly, inedible. Your artichoke is cooked if you stick a fork in the base of the artichoke (close to the stem but not the stem) towards the center of the artichoke and it goes in. If it feels like you're trying to stick your fork in wood, steam away for 10 more minutes.

I think the total should take about 30 minutes, give or take 10 minutes.

 There, that's done.

By the way, buy artichokes that are green, not brown, and tightly closed - and don't be like me and leave them in the fridge for a week and let them turn brown.

While that was steaming, I made the vinaigrette. Some people like salt and butter, mayonnaise or other dips, but I like a simple vinaigrette with a punch.

Peel your clove of garlic and put through a garlic press, or mince as finely as you can. Add mustard, olive oil and lemon juice, and stir with a spoon or a fork. After about half a minute or so, the oil should stop separating from the vinegar and form a creamy emulsion. Salt to taste, and add more oil or lemon juice as you like.

I myself had never tasted an artichoke (not counting the ones in salads from a can or jar) until a couple of years ago, when I was in Provence. A great many of my friends, especially in Japan and Russia, have no idea what an artichoke is - and I'm afraid I just can't explain the taste. It's very slightly starchy, rather creamy and complex in flavor. It has a spring-like, green fragrance to it, like asparagus, but doesn't feel like a crisp leafy green vegetable. 

It's a flower, actually, and those green things like tulip petals are the petals. Peel away the bottom few; they contain very little edible parts. Peel away perhaps ten of the small ones close to the stem. 

As you peel more, the base of the petal becomes fleshier. That's the edible part. Dip into the vinaigrette and put the bottom half in your mouth, and scrape away the flesh with your teeth. 

And yes, when you eat artichokes, you'll end up with a garbage pile far bigger than the artichoke itself. 

Keep eating until you run out of green petals.
Now you see pale white petals. The tips may be pink or purple. These are much softer, but the tips are quite sharp, so don't go around poking your finger in there. 

You can just grab the tops and remove these parts easily. They're quite tender so the bottom half can be eaten - not that there's a whole lot to eat there. 

When you finish peeling that, your artichoke will now look like yet another exotic specimen. 

You're close to the artichoke's heart! 

This part is feathery, fluffy and quite inedible. You'll have to remove this silky mass to get at the heart - I use a spoon to scoop it out, but here I used a knife just to show you what it looks like:

Looks like a field of wheat to me. 

The base is the heart - and the stem is edible too; it tastes just like the heart. 

After all this steaming and peeling and pricking your fingers and dipping, you will probably eat the heart in three quick bites. 

Yum yum yum. 


By the way, that's an uncooked artichoke, split in half. It's a gorgeous flower, isn't it?


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