Organic baby artichokes from California have been arriving in local shops around here, and when I see these little guys, I can't resist buying some. I'd love to leave them sitting in a bowl and just look at them, because they are so pretty. But, it's usually not long before they end up in a pot.
I'm always looking for new ways to prepare artichokes, so anyone reading, please share your favorite artichoke recipes if you're so inclined. : ) My favorite way to prepare artichokes is to stew them with some tomatoes and shallots. It's simple, yet tasty and goes wonderfully with rice or crusty bread.
I have to admit that preparing these little guys seems sort of wasteful at first, because you really do need to remove all the tough parts and outer layers. The tender middle is a worthy reward though, and it helps to remember that they are thistles, so it's natural that you'd have to do a bit of grooming to make them palatable.
I usually start by topping and tailing them, cutting off the top third of the flower and the very tip of the stem. If you like, you can try to salvage any little inner bits from the top that seem tender enough to eat.
top third cut off
Then, I remove the outer leaves. I rely on my tactile sense and just keep pulling leaves off until I can only feel tender flesh...any little bit of toughness and I pull the leaf. Pulling the leaves off in a downward motion will also remove the outer skin on the stem, which is good, because it's tough and not particularly nice to eat.
outer leaves and skin on stem removed
Finally, I cut the artichoke in half length-wise and remove the center of the choke with a paring knife. You can see below that the bottom piece has the choke removed, while the top piece still has the choke in tact. At this point, you'd want to drop the artichokes in some water with lemon juice, as they will turn brown very quickly otherwise.
When I make this particular dish, I usually get the tomato sauce cooking first, and then as I prepare each artichoke, just drop it right into the stewing sauce. The acid from the tomatoes works the same as lemon juice, and once the artichokes are immersed and begin to cook, you no longer have to worry about them going brown.
choke removed (left)
For the stewing sauce, I saute some roughly sliced shallot and garlic in a bit of olive oil and add a few red pepper flakes.When the shallot begins to become tender, I toss in some roughly chopped fresh tomatoes and about 1 cup of water, then toss in the artichokes as I prepare them. For this batch, I used 2 large shallots, 6 garlic cloves (left whole) 10 baby artichokes, and 6 large vine tomatoes. Once I have all ingredients in the pot, I bring it to a simmer, cover, and let it cook gently for about 30-40 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.
In the end, you have a simple artichoke dish. I usually garnish it with fresh parsley, but any herb of choice would be good. A squeeze of fresh lemon is also a nice addition.