Through the Kitchen Window

There's a "farmers' market" here in Toronto, just steps from the lakeshore, called the St Lawrence Market. I think it's one of my favourite places to spend a Saturday morning. Quite often, my kids and I will meet there bright and early (for them) at 8:30, have a delicious espresso from Pasta Mia and any one of a dozen different freshly baked goods from the bakers that must surely have been up before the crack of dawn.

Once well fortified, we begin our quest for the exact thing to make for dinner that night. Or veggies that are beyond fresh. This particular visit, I was taken by the artichokes I found. Big, green firm globes in all their spiky glory. But I knew what they were capable of being. Since I hadn't made them in a long time, I decided to pick the four best specimens and take them home.

What a treat!!! I was so excited, I could hardly wait to get them into my kitchen and get started.

Artichokes are the kind of vegetable that if you haven't prior experience can look daunting and unpromising. They are a little more work than most vegetables, but they are worth the work.

Carciofi alla Roxx

    To start with, squeeze the juice of two lemons into a bowl of water large enough to hold all the artichokes. Set this next to your work area. This acidulated water will help to prevent the artichokes from turning brown (oxidizing). This happens very quickly. Then I keep the juiced halves on the cutting board with me to rub over the cut edges as I work.

    First, trim the stem off as evenly as you can leaving a base that will hold the artichoke upright. Rub a lemon half generously over the cut.

    Then, starting at the base, snap off the heavy dark green leaves. Keep snapping until you start to see a lighter green colour showing at the base of the leaf. This is the portion of the leaf that's edible. From the leaves you've snapped off, you'll notice that there will still be small bits of the leaves at the base. With a good sharp knife, make a cut straight across the top off the artichoke, about an inch down. Rub cut area with a lemon half. At this point, I take up my third weapon, my sharpest kitchen shears, and snip about a quarter inch or so of the prickly tip of any leaves that still have them. Rub all over these with that trusty lemon half. Now, take a paring knife and trim as much of the dark green from the base of the artichoke. What you're trying to accomplish here is basically, remove any of the toughness that's left of the leaves you snapped off. Always remember to rub with lemon.

    At this point, you're done unless you want to stuff them, but perhaps I'll leave that part of the lesson for another column. Stuffing the artichoke requires removing the inner choke. We'll do that in a future "Part Two".

    Drop your trimmed artichoke into the lemon water and continue till all or your artichokes are trimmed.

    Rinse them well, drop them into a pot that will hold them all in a single layer and cover with water. Place your pot on the stove over high heat and as the water is heating add the following:

    • 1 tbsp coarse salt
    • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
    • 4 large cloves of garlic peeled
    • 2 handfuls of Italian (flat leaf) parsley, stems and all

    Once it's come to the boil, turn it down to medium. At this point, I taste the water to make sure there's enough seasoning. I just look for the slight taste of salt and garlic. If you can't sense that, add a bit more, cover and let simmer for an hour turning the artichokes often and making sure that they're always covered with liquid.

    And that's all there is to it. Remove them gently from the pot, allow them to cool to room temperature and enjoy. My favourite way is to eat them as is, but some like to dip the leaves in a garlic mayo or a balsamic dressing. The embellishment is purely up to you.

    Start by pulling off the leaves, one at a time.

    Dip the fleshy end in something if you like. Place it in your mouth and pull your teeth against the pulpy portion of the leaf. Discard the rest. Continue this way until you've done all the leaves. You'll find, as you get closer to the middle that the leaves are almost completely edible except for any spiny bits that were hidden.

    This is what you're left with. With a spoon, scrape out and discard the inedible fuzzy part (this is the "choke"). What remains is the artichoke heart. (Some cooks discard the whole artichoke in the prep process and save only the heart to cook and eat.) Cut it into pieces and dip into sauce to eat.

Artichokes prepared this way are often used as an appetizer. For myself, I've been known to have two and call it a meal. Whatever way you decide to try them, I'd be interested in hearing your feedback. Drop me a line and let me know what you thought.