You have to wonder about the first person who decided to eat an artichoke. I suppose it could have been starvation that led some ancient human to attempt to ingest this Mediterranean thistle, but I rather suspect it was a dare between two men.
I envision them roasting one over a fire, realizing how delicious it was, and then deciding to keep it to themselves. You see, for centuries afterwards only men were allowed to consume artichokes; their supposed aphrodisiac qualities put them off limits to any woman who wanted to keep her reputation.
Fortunately, Catherine de Medici, a 15th century queen of France, didn't much confine herself to the traditional gender roles of the time. She brought artichokes to France from her native Italy, and ate so many that she “liked to burst with them”, according to one contemporary. The vegetable's popularity spread through Southern Europe and eventually made it to California, where most artichokes are grown today.
But really, how do you eat an artichoke?
In addition to tough outer leaves, the bristly “choke” inside will literally leave you coughing and sputtering.
There are only two parts of an artichoke that are edible. The first is a tiny bit of tender flesh at the base of each leaf, which is best scraped off between your front teeth. The second is the heart, a tender disc buried underneath the fuzzy choke.
It's a bit of work to get to the good parts, to be sure, but dipped in a little melted butter or garlic-herb mayo, I can understand why Queen Catherine was willing to risk a bit of infamy to gobble artichokes up.
- 1-2 artichokes per person
- 1 lemon
- mayonnaise or melted butter for dipping
Find a bowl or pot large enough to hold all of your artichokes and fill it about halfway with cold water. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into the water and discard the rind.
Cut off the lower stem of one artichoke and then cut about an inch off of the top. Use sharp kitchen shears to snip off the prickly tops of the rest of the leaves, then toss the artichoke in your prepared water. Repeat this process with the remaining artichokes.
Fit a large pot with a steamer basket. Place the artichokes in the basket and pour over just enough of the lemon water that it comes up to the bottom of the artichokes. Put the pot on medium heat, cover with a lid, and bring the water to a boil.
The cooking time will depend on the size of your artichokes, but 30 minutes is a good baseline. The artichokes are done when you can easily pull a leaf from near the center.
To eat a steamed artichoke, pull off an outside leaf, dip the bottom edge in melted butter or mayonnaise, then scrape it between your teeth. Continue to work at the artichoke this way until you get to the fuzzy center. Use a spoon to remove all of the fuzz—trust me, you don't want to eat even a single thread of that—then enjoy the meaty heart underneath.
All joking about aphrodisiacs aside, artichokes make a lovely appetizer for a lingering spring dinner on the porch.