Trimming Artichokes

June 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

My artichoke plant has pretty much grown itself this year. After a productive summer last year, I cut it way back, and it has been gaining ground ever since. It’s  now almost 5 feet tall! Because of its star growing power, I’ve neglected it a bit, and was surprised last month when I saw around 30 artichokes budding. A few take-aways from my experience:

  • Artichokes are tall and wide. They are great if you have a lot of space, but not the ideal plant for small gardens. Their height also makes them vulnerable to wind. I’ve lost more than one stem to gusty weather this year!
  • Artichoke plants are low-maintenance. I completely ignored my plant all fall and winter, and most of the spring. But don’t forget to water it when the temperatures get higher…I was guilty of this over the past few months.
  • In many climates, you can leave them in the ground for several years. I think this is the final leg for my plant, but I’ll be planting a new one soon!

Once you have grown the artichoke, there are so many things you can do with it. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that when I’m preparing an artichoke just for myself, I keep things simple. I wash it, steam it, and eat it with some type of dipping sauce. This is easy and delicious, if a little messy to eat. If you are cooking for others, I can think of a few good reasons to trim your artichokes first, despite the bit of time involved:

  • People will be impressed!
  • You can help your guests avoid the messy (and sometimes awkward) stages of artichoke eating, including pealing away the inedible outer and inner leaves, avoiding prickly leaf tips, and scooping out the hairs in the center.
  • You can put dipping sauce in the center of the artichoke to serve, or prepare roasted stuffed artichokes.

So, here we go!

1.  Fill a bowl with water, and squeeze in a generous amount of lemon juice (I use the juice of one medium lemon for a large bowl). Artichokes are not joking around when it comes to oxidation. Unless you want brown, oxidized artichokes, dip any newly trimmed or cut portions or the artichoke into the water as quickly as possible as you move through the following steps. This means lots of dipping!

2.  Pluck off the bottom leaves. I pulled off approximately 4 layers of leaves, but this may vary depending on the size and type of artichoke. Trim the bottom of the stem (and don’t forget to dip in the lemon water).

3.  Now you have two options. When I have a small, delicate stem, I normally choose just to cut it off. If you have a sturdier stem (or are more patient than I am), use a small knife to cut off the outer fibrous portion of the stem, leaving the inner core. Then, working out from the stem, use the same small knife to cut off the dark green bottom of the artichoke, exposing the white artichoke heart below. Remember to dip regularly in lemon water!

4.  Turn the artichoke onto its side, and use a large serrated knife to cut off the top 1/3 of the artichoke leaves. You may not be able get all the leaves in one cut, so use scissors to trim the tips of lower lying leaves and to clean up any leaves that are left a bit disheveled.

This is the pretty part!

5.  Now it gets a little trickier: time to pluck and scoop! First, loosen up the inner leaves a bit with your fingers. Then, dig vigorously into the middle of the leaves with a spoon. Alternatively, you can start by plucking out the leaves. Either strategy will seem impossible at first, but once you loosen one or two, it gets easier. Depending on how tough your artichoke is, the next few minutes will be spent in some combination of plucking and scooping…do whatever it takes to remove those inner white and purple leaves.

6.  Once you have removed all of the inner leaves, use your spoon to scoop out the inner hairs. Don’t worry, the heart is actually quite tough, so it is  easy to get rid of the hairs without destroying the heart.  Remember about the lemon water! The inner heart is especially quick to oxidize!

7.  You are done! Place your artichokes in lemon water until you are ready to use them! I actually use a new, fresh bowl of lemon water at this point, because the first bowl gets pretty dirty during the trimming process.

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