Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Artichokes: Worth the Effort?

For all the vegetables I've discovered and learned to cook with since moving to Madison, the artichoke is not one of them.

Perhaps this is because most of the world's artichokes are grown abroad (Italy, Spain, and France), or, if grown in the United States, they are decidedly not local to Wisconsin (nearly 100%  of all U.S. artichokes are grown in California, ~80% in Monterey County). So, they haven't made it into our CSA box or any other venue that would encourage me to try them.

image from www.sardegna.com

But then, our good friend Kroy (also known as Mike in Daegu), came to visit, and was curious to try this beautiful, but mysterious vegetable (or is it a fruit?)

We'd both heard that artichokes were really difficult to prep, but that they were so delicious that they were worth the effort.

But let me tell you, based on our experience at least: so not worth it.

Anyone care to disagree with me?

We tried to follow some basic directions we found online, in conjunction with Mark Bittman's advice in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but ended up confused anyway. Even with all this education, we can't cook an artichoke! So, we ended up just trimming the leaves, removing them from the heart, and then steaming both the leaves and the heart (quartered) until the rest of our food was ready (about 20-30 minutes, I think).

Justin whipped up a roasted garlic, Vegannaise, Sriracha sauce that was really delicious, for dipping purposes.



But even with the delicious sauce, the leaves and hearts--though substantially softened by the long steam bath--still offered only a fairly mild, slightly bitter flavor that definitely wasn't the glory we were expecting.

Did we do something wrong?

Any artichoke lovers out there who want to defend the honorable fruit, and make the "they are too worth it!" argument? I'd love to hear it...

12 comments:

  1. Sorry to say, it sounds like you either over or undercooked them. Bitterness makes me think under, but "substantially softened" (mushy?) makes me thing over. Maybe cutting them up beforehand leached out some of the flavor? I am a HUGE artichoke fan, but they have to be good, fresh artichokes to begin with. Even at the Coop, most of the time they look sort of sad and dried out, so you have to catch them when you find good ones.

    I only have them once or twice a year, but I don't do anything complicated. Only remove the toughest outer leaves, then boil them (little bit of lemon juice in the water) 20-40 minutes depending on size, until a fork in the bottom (tee hee!) shows it's tender. Then just pull off the leaves dip in butter and scrape the soft underside with your teeth. Once you get to the choke, cut it off, then eat the heart (with more butter). I think anything other than butter and a tiny bit of lemon is a crime-- you will miss the really delicate and hard to describe flavor. That is, unless it is the artichoke stuffed with crab and deep fried, which I once had in San Jose. Wow.

    Sorry-- I'm a bit artichoke obsessed, and I'm way overdue for a fix-- one last thing: you have to try drinking some milk after eating artichokes. It will taste sweet. There's some chemical in there that makes dairy taste sweeter (and wine bitter).

    ReplyDelete
  2. If only we'd had you around, Megan! I'm saving your directions and will most certainly refer to them if I get another experience with the ol' artichoke someday.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Artichokes have always been one of my favorite vegetables, maybe because it always felt like a special occasion when one of my parents decided to cook them - my mom is in the "not worth the trouble" school, and my dad almost never cooks, so I didn't get to eat them very often as a kid.

    So, I second Megan's comment. I think it's especially important to cook them whole because peeling the leaves off one at a time and getting to the heart (which is, in my opinion, the best part) last is an important part of the experience.

    Also, when I'm not feeling lazy, I clip the prickly pieces off of the ends of the leaves with some kitchen shears. This doesn't take long and I just do it while the water (for steaming) is heating up.

    I usually eat artichokes plain, but I imagine they would be great with butter and lemon, as Megan suggests. When I was a kid we used to eat the leaves dipped in mayonnaise, and I thought it was really good at the time. I don't like grocery store mayonnaise anymore, but I wonder if they would be good with some home-made mayonnaise, which might be delicate enough not to ruin the flavor?

    And finally, I also love, love, love canned artichoke hearts on salads (although I'm pretty sure they're always from some other country, and sometimes they're pretty expensive - I figure it's worth the splurge/karma issues if I grow the lettuce myself!)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Perhaps I should add another chapter to my dissertation on canned artichoke hearts?

    ReplyDelete
  5. In my opinion, they're not worth the trouble. (No offense to you guys that love them.) I do like the hearts on pizza and whatnot, but I just don't get enough out of the artichoke to make it feel worthwhile to cook em. I think it's something about the "mass of consumable matter" / "total mass of vegetable" ratio. If they were growing right outside my door, I think they could be fun and exciting to pick and eat....but from the store or market, they just seem like a hassle.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Don't give up on the Artichoke! They are delicious and worth all the time & effort! I love them and used to eat the leaves like potato chips!

    Check this recipe out: http://www.cookeatdelicious.com/artichokes/artichokes-special-sauce.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sarah-- yes! There is definitely something magical about that experience of demolishing it leaf by leaf and getting to the heart. I've never eaten them with mayo, but I think that is the classic French way to do it, as part of an aioli platter. Raven's recipe looks pretty tempting, too.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Artichokes are my favorite. When I was little, and my mom would steam them up, the heart was the greatest reward: sweet, earthy, fleeting. I always knew how much my father loved me because sometimes he would share his heart with me after I'd demolished mine. That's love.

    We always do them up with a sauce of mayonnaise, fresh crushed garlic, and lemon juice. I've had other sauces, but none compares to this as far as I'm concerned. It is a great addition to the leaves, and complements the heart's sweetness perfectly when you get to the end. There's little I love more than the scooped-out heart, filled with a dollop of this sauce. Heaven!

    I never do anything fancy with artichokes: just steam 'em up whole (it does take awhile, about 30 minutes probably -- to test for doneness, I grab 'em with tongs and feel the bottom with a fork to see if it's tender), and go at it. I hope you'll give them another try!

    ReplyDelete
  9. So much artichoke love! It's interesting how similar many of your stories are about eating artichokes, and cherishing them as a treat, tied up with family relationships. There's gotta be a story there...

    ReplyDelete
  10. One more funny thing: my mother (from CA) introduced my father (from northern NY) to many new foods when they got married, and two of them were avocados and artichokes. He'd often confuse the two words, though he came to love both green things enormously.

    Perhaps our next discussion can be about avocados: I bet there's a lot of love there, too!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Am--wanna write a guest post about avocados?! If not, I imagine I'll get there eventually, but I'd love to read your thoughts...

    ReplyDelete
  12. Give me a little time to mull it over, but, yeah, I'd be open to it.

    ReplyDelete