The Underappreciated Artichoke

Many people seem intimidated by whole artichokes on menus and in grocery stores. I can't say I blame them--they are rather alien looking and somewhat prickly. The artichokes in my local markets are always piled so high I have to wonder who besides me is buying them. So, in case you've if you've ever wondered what exactly you should do with an artichoke if you did happen to bring one home, here's a crash course on an incredibly easy and delicious preparation.Although small artichokes are great quartered and roasted (particularly good with lemon and herbs) and large artichokes can be baked whole if you've got some time to kill, the most efficient way to prepare one is with a pressure cooker. I should be afraid of pressure cookers. I was a little scared as a child that the fast rocking steel bob that sat on top our old-fashioned pressure cooker would fly off. I was further traumatized by having to mop exploded chicken bits off the ceiling and every surface in the kitchen after my mom forgot about the bird she was cooking for our much beloved, ailing cat. Incidentally, the cat wasn't all that interested and the pressure cooker, once we got a new gasket, was no worse for the wear. However, modern pressure cookers have nice safety features and won't explode when forgotten on the stove and it turns out they are a great way to cook any number of things, including beets, potatoes, and dried beans.

Artichokes are great for sharing with friends, though I often hoard one all to myself. One people can easily share a medium to large artichoke as a light starter. Cooking an Artichoke, Quick Overview

  1. Rinse artichoke(s).
  2. Trip stems, tops, and pointy ends of "leaves."
  3. Pressure cook at high pressure for 11-14 minutes, depending on size.
  4. Serve with a dipping sauce (below).

If you're not entirely sure what any of the steps above mean, or want pictures, or just enjoy rambling descriptions, then the much lengthier description of these steps that follows is for you... Cooking an Artichoke, in DetailLook for artichokes that appear bright and fresh with the globe still tightly closed. Avoid extra large ones for pressure cooking.Rinse your artichokes in cool water and shake them to get the water out.Using a knife, slice off the stem and the top of the globe to remove the sharp pointy ends. Rub half a lemon over the cut surfaces to keep them from browning.

Using scissors, cut the remaining pointy tips off the outermost leaves.Gently pull open the artichoke to loosen up the leaves and create some more space inside.Optional: Depending on how richly flavored and how messy you want your artichoke, you can drizzle between the leaves before cooking. When I bother with this, I usually mix up olive oil, Meyer lemon juice, a little whole seed mustard, and cracked peppercorns.

Put some water in the bottom of a pressure cooker, making sure that the water level is below the height of the cooking shelf, and place the artichokes upright on the shelf.Put the lid on your pressure cooker, seal it, and turn the heat to high. My dear friend Silvia gave us a Kuhn Rikon 7 liter pressure cooker that I absolutely adore. In place of the traditional rocker top, it has a stem marked with 2 red lines that pops up higher as the pressure builds. Artichokes should be cooked at high pressure, or the second red line. Once you get to the appropriate pressure, turn down the heat (you may have to play with your stove to find the temperature that will maintain the right pressure) and set a timer for 11-14 minutes, depending on the size of your artichokes. You can always cook them more, but not the other way around, so err on the side of too little time.Use the quick release method for your pressure cooker. On mine, I just push down the stem to release the steam. (I recommend doing this under the stove vent with the fan on.)Stick a skewer, cake tester, or thin knife through the middle of the top down through the heart to test for doneness: you should be able to pierce the heart (it shouldn't still be crunchy) with some resistance (not mushy either). You can also taste a leaf from the outside, though they are always the least tender. If it's only slightly undercooked, close the lid and let it sit on the stove for a few more minutes to continue cooking with the stored heat. If it's got a ways to go, start up the pressure cooker again.

Plate, serve with dipping sauce, and start with the outermost leaves (discarding those you find too tough). Dip, put the leaf about halfway into your mouth with the inner surface facing down, bite down, and pull the leaf out. More and more of each leaf will be edible as you work toward the heart.

Pull off and discard the prickly fuzz covering the heart using a teaspoon, knife, or your fingers. With a sharp knife, slice the mushy stem stub off the bottom and slice the heart into quarters or eights. Dip and eat. Dipping SauceYou can serve artichokes with any number of sauces, including a simple mix of olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt, and pepper. However, the one I grew up with and by far my favorite is some version (it's a little different every time) of the following, which is enough for 2 large artichokes:Mix together in a small bowl:

     2 Tbs. mayonnaise1 Tbs. olive oil1 tsp. grainy/whole seed mustard1 clove of garlic, crushed1/2 tsp. lemon juice1/2 to 1 tsp. Balsamic vinegarSalt and pepper to tasteIf you like a little spice, add a pinch of red pepper flakes and a dash of chili powder

The acidity in artichokes makes them notoriously hard to pair with wine. If you find a wine that complements them, please let me know!