Sunday, 12 August 2012

Globe artichokes

I absolutely love globe artichokes - I usually have a jar of artichoke hearts in oil lurking in my fridge somewhere as they make a great addition to a deli plate supper. But I love them fresh too and they are in season right now so I'm making the best of them while I can.

Eating them freshly cooked reminds me of happy times eating al fresco in the French countryside with friends and Parisian Boy, a huge platter of globe artichokes piled in the middle of the table and extra bowls to hand for the discards. Small bowls of French dressing and homemade mayonnaise, plus crusty baguette and dry white wine.

I suspect a lot of people pass up on them in the shops, unsure what to do with them when really they are unbelievably easy to prepare. They are a bit fiddly to eat, but that's half the pleasure. I love to eat with my fingers and if you live alone there's no one to see you sucking away at the fleshy part of the leaves, while dressing dribbles down your chin. Really, they are perfect for solo dining. 

What you need: 
2 globe artichokes
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

What to do: 
Trim the long stalks off with a sharp knife, cutting them as close to the base as possible.They should sit up right after trimming. Don't worry about any brown outer leaves - they are still edible.

Put a very large pan of water on to boil, with a pinch of salt added. Boil the artichokes for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour - they are done when you can easily pull out a leaf.

While they are cooking, whisk up a very light French dressing of olive oil, vinegar and seasoning, and pour it into a small bowl. When the artichokes are cooked, drain them and put on a plate, with the bowl of dressing. Have paper napkins and a second plate to hand.

How to eat:
Pull the leaves off one by one and dip the fleshy inner at the base of the leaf into the dressing and suck the flesh off, using your teeth. Use the second plate to discard any very tough inedible outer leaves and the leftovers of the ones you've eaten.
Don't choke on this bit

When you've eaten all the leaves (the innermost ones being the smallest and tenderest), you'll reach a fibrous mass called the choke. You can't eat this so pull it off with your fingers or cut it away with a knife. Discard. What's left is the prize -  the artichoke heart, a soft and fleshy disc that makes all the previous effort so worthwhile.

The prized heart

Put this lot on the compost
Cook's tips:
Cooking time varies depending on how fresh the artichokes are and how late in the season it is. I usually bet on a good 45 minutes, but very young ones will need less time and older, bigger ones will need around 60 minutes. The only way to tell is to keep trying to pull a leaf out.

White wine vinegar is traditional in a French dressing, but a light fruity one such as raspberry or apple works well too. Keep the proportion of vinegar to about a third.