by Emily Teel
Early spring can be the most frustrating time for eating seasonally. By April we’re beyond bored with winter vegetables, but the weather isn’t warm enough yet to have our real spring favorites emerge like sweet peas, asparagus, and strawberries. Though it might be tough to eat seasonally locally, we can still make inspiring meals from farther afield because March through May is peak artichoke season in California.
Though these spiky vegetables — actually flower buds — can seem intimidating at first, they’re easy to wrangle once you learn a few basic techniques.
When choosing artichokes, select ones that feel compact and heavy for their size. They don’t have to look perfect since you’ll be trimming away some of the outer leaves anyway. To prepare them, use a serrated knife to slice off the top inch of the leaves and a bit of the stem. Remember, the stem has the same flavor and texture as the heart so don’t go too far. Use a paring knife to peel the stem and clip away any especially tough outer leaves. Then snip off the thorny ends of each petal using a pair of kitchen shears and scoop out the fibrous choke (the fuzzy center) using a spoon. As you work, rub each artichoke with the cut side of a halved lemon to prevent them from browning. If you’re working on several artichokes, simply leave the trimmed ones in a bowl of water with a splash of white vinegar or lemon juice.
Once prepped, the possibilities are endless.
Steam ‘Em Up
The simplest way of dealing with artichokes is to steam them and then serve them whole. To eat, peel each petal back, dunking them in melted butter, viniagrette, or aioli before scraping off the meat between your teeth. Use a fork and knife to tackle the tender heart once you arrive at it.
Steaming artichokes is super easy — start with a tall pot and a steamer basket, placing the artichokes upside down so their stems face upward. Steam them over an inch of simmering water with a lid on for about 20 minutes. When you can easily pull a leaf from the center, they’re ready to go.
Roast to Perfection
Photo credit: ibreatheimhungry.com
Roasting is an alternative to steaming that’s just as simple. Stuff the empty centers of the artichokes with a few cloves of peeled garlic, drizzle olive oil and lemon juice into the petals and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Wrap tightly in foil and bake in a 450 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. The resulting artichokes are intensely caramelized and flavorful!
Get to Grilling
Photo credit: Mark Thomas
Take advantage of a warm spring day by firing up the grill! The smoky flavor imparted to artichoke leaves on the grill is particularly appealing, especially when paired, with bright flavors like lemon and mint.
Fry Like the Italians
One of the best-loved Italian preparations of artichokes is the Roman carciofi alla giudia — whole artichokes fried in olive oil.
Stuff with Anything Savory
Photo credit: New York Times
Though harder to stuff than peppers or tomatoes, artichokes become more of a meal when stuffed with the aromatic combination of bread crumbs, capers, herbs, and garlic. Including carrots and a little white wine, the artichoke easily takes center-stage on any plate.
Shave over Everything
Photo Credit: Finecooking.com
While big, globe-style artichokes need cooking, baby ones shaved thinly need only marinating to become a tender, interesting addition to a spring salad. Add some spicy arugula, drizzle with olive oil and top with shavings of salty Parmigiano Reggiano.
Chop to It
Photo credit: LA Times
Frozen artichoke hearts are brilliant in a creamy spinach and artichoke dip, and even fresh ones do well with a little richness. Try this recipe that pairs fresh artichokes with another spring favorite — green garlic — for a rich gratin that still allows the flavor of fresh artichokes to shine.
Marinate and Create Something Unique
Photo credit: Popsugar
Honestly, there are few party tricks classier than marinated artichokes to accompany a spread of cheese and salumi and you can’t go wrong by pairing them with olive oil, crushed garlic and red pepper.
Look for fresh artichokes, along with the olive oil and cheese for these recipes, at your local Di Bruno Bros.