I’m just going to come out and say it this time: The artichoke is the hippest of vegetables. It’s quirky, obscure, aesthetically pleasing and plays a minor role in the film Amélie, thereby meeting all criteria necessary to win over legions of hipster folk. As if that weren’t enough, it contains the word art, making it ripe for punning. I understand puns are frowned upon in polite society, but please excuse me if I transgress in the following article — I’ve been known to make use of injudicious jeux-de-mots.
Also I just realized that the word “ripe,” in context, might constitute a pun.
I know I have a problem. Please forgive me.
Being tragically hip, I’ve always looked fondly on artichokes. I like eating their pickled hearts straight from the can. I like peeling the flesh from the leaves with my teeth. I like using them as a vehicle for melted butter. However, I have always thought of them as an extravagance, and never tried to make them at home — that is, before this weekend, when it dawned on me that most restaurants prepare their artichokes by steaming or pan-frying them, two of the simplest techniques in existence.
Thus it came to be that I found myself at Wegmans at 1 a.m. in pursuit of artichokes. Have you ever been in Wegmans when it’s empty? It’s weird. A soft and pervasive existential confusion swept over me upon seeing the deserted produce section, misters misting the undisturbed rows of vegetables until they glittered with a fine dew, looking fresh-picked for absolutely no reason at all. Then Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” blared from the tiny speakers above me, and I turned to my grocery-shopping companion, and we banished the big-box ennui with an impromptu tacky 80’s dance party.
I came home with approximately three pounds of artichokes — a few normal-sized globes as well as a two-pound box of “baby artichokes,” which are like regular artichokes only smaller and therefore cuter and more delicious. I decided to make these my first foray into artichoke cooking. With a little help from my sous-chef — er, roommate — I had the entire box cleaned, quartered and sizzling away in a skillet in a little less than 15 minutes.
The finished product was a platterful of tender morsels drenched in olive oil, fragrant with garlic, garnished with fresh parsley and brightened with a squeeze of lemon. They were exquisite right out of the pan, but kept their flavor and texture as they cooled. As I lingered at the kitchen table I found it difficult to keep from sneaking them into my mouth at five-minute intervals. The leftovers proved equally irresistible. We made bruschetta by toasting them atop bread with a smattering of Pecorino cheese, and I bet they’d be amazing with any straight-from-the-jar pasta sauce.
I no longer consider artichokes an unattainable delicacy. Though they remain one of the more peculiar and unexpected vegetables, I’ve discovered they’re simple as hell to prepare and even simpler to devour. They’re the perfect snack or side dish for the chef looking to strike a balance between impressive and effortless. Also, they’re in season for now until summer — so get your hip self to the grocery store and fry some up tonight.
Sautéed Baby Artichokes with Garlic and Lemon
adapted from a New York Times recipe
2 lbs. baby artichokes
juice of one lemon
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
salt & pepper
As garnish: chopped parsley and lemon wedges
To prepare the baby artichokes, remove the outer leaves until you uncover the delicate light-green leaves underneath. (Take off a few more layers than you think are necessary – when we cooked them those we’d left more leaves on were tougher and more fibrous than those we’d stripped thoroughly.) Trim off the tops and stems, then quarter the artichokes and place them immediately into a bowl of cold water to which you’ve added the lemon juice.
Cover the bottom of a large, heavy skillet with about a ¼ inch of olive oil and heat over medium heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, drain the artichokes, blot them dry, and add them to the skillet, being careful not to get splattered by blistering-hot oil. Season with salt and pepper, toss to coat with oil, and then sauté for 5-10 minutes until slightly browned and tender. Add the minced garlic and stir, cooking until it is fragrant and golden. You could get adventurous here and add other ingredients—red pepper flakes for spice, oregano for an herbed nuance, or maybe chopped bits of prosciutto for salty, meaty zest.
When all the flavors have mingled to your satisfaction, transfer to a plate, garnish with chopped parsley, scatter some salt over the top and serve with wedges of lemon. You can eat these hot, room temperature, or cold from the fridge the next day.
P.S. Fun fact: Artichokes contain a compound that inhibits taste receptors, meaning twenty minutes after you eat these everything else tastes oddly sweet. Enjoy the weirdness.