Enjoy Artichokes But Don't Choke Artie!

If there were an award for most menacing vegetable, the artichoke would undoubtedly win. Its tender heart, however, belies its warlike, prickly exterior. It's the lovable curmudgeon of the vegetable world.

Botanically, the artichoke is a giant thistle. It has two edible parts - the heart and the meaty part of the leaves. Neither is easily accessible - an artichoke requires work.

Each leaf has an edible portion on the lower half of its underside. (Given that the only way to get at it is to scrape it off with your teeth, it's surprising that the artichoke has made its way into polite society.) The outer leaves have very little meat, and it tends to be tough. As you get closer to the center, the leaves get softer and the edible portion gets bigger. At the very core of the artichoke is the larger edible portion, which is sensibly called the heart.

The heart, besides being the reward for eaters who make it through all the leaves, can also stand on its own; it cooks like a root vegetable and can be steamed, sautéed, braised, or roasted. It can go pretty much anywhere that carrots, potatoes, and parsnips go.

With artichokes, unlike so many other things, size doesn't matter. Choose specimens that feel heavy, firm, and squeaky.

Whole Artichokes

To cook them whole, trim the stem, remove a layer of outer leaves, and steam (don't boil - the nooks and crannies make boiled artichokes bog down). Because their size and age varies, it's hard to give reliable cooking times, but 20 to 40 minutes is a good guideline. They're done when the outer leaves come off easily and the meat on them is tender.

Artichoke Hearts

To get at the heart, trim off the entire stem and all the outer leaves. Use a spoon to remove the spiny part at the center - the evocatively named choke. The trimmed heart looks like a very shallow bowl and can be used like other vegetables: Steam it, sauté it, roast it, or braise it.

Alternative Strategies

There are a few ways to get around artichoke labor:

  • Use the canned (unmarinated) kind. They have a briny taste, but they're good additions to a salad or a stir-fry.
  • Look for baby artichokes - they have no choke and are much easier to prepare. Just remove the stem and outer leaves, and everything that's left is edible.
  • Try frozen artichoke hearts; freezing breaks down the texture, but the flavor survives.

Chicken and Artichoke Stew

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped

1 medium (4.5 lb) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, chopped

5 large artichokes, trimmed, halved, chokes removed (place in acidulated water until ready to use)
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
2 cups chicken broth

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Sautee the onions for about 7 minutes, or until golden. Place in a bowl and set aside.

2. Heat the remaining oil in the same pot. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and place in the pot. Cook all sides until browned, about ten minutes. Drain off any excess fat and sprinkle the chicken with the flour. Turn the chicken over and cook until the flour is browned, about another two minutes. Add the onions back into the pot along with the white wine and garlic. Reduce to a medium-low heat and simmer until the wine has reduced by about half.

3. Drain the artichokes and add them to the pot along with the tomatoes and broth. Continue simmering until the artichokes are tender and the chick is cooked completely, about thirty minutes. Skim off any visible fat from the surface. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

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