I had always thought of artichokes as an unwieldy vegetable, one that involved too much work to eat. After becoming a fan of the hassle-free jarred artichokes many years ago, I finally built up the courage to try cooking fresh artichokes for the first time. Then I realized that I had been missing out on a very unique and ancient vegetable, actually a flower bud. Artichokes originate from the Mediterranean countries and have been revered since Roman times. There are many varieties, but here in the United States only two varieties are readily available, the large globe, and the small baby, which are not actually babies but a fully grown small variety. I decided to set my knife upon them since their size would be perfect for tackling the first time around.
There is a certain way to clean and prepare baby artichokes. It seems daunting at first, but after a few of these little buds are peeled, it's easy to develop a rhythm. With a sharp paring knife, pretty much anything can be done. It's all about peeling, peeling, and more peeling to get down to the tender light green part of the artichoke. If you think you've peeled enough, peel some more. But be careful because artichokes are prickly, I know from experience. there's no need to remove the choke since these artichokes are much more tender than larger varieties. After some trimming to remove the tough skin from the base, it's time for a quick bath in acidulated water (lemon water) to keep the discoloration at bay. Once drained, the artichokes are ready for cooking any which way.
Following this simple Mediterranean-style recipe, these prickly vegetables turn out wonderfully. After the more rigorous techniques above, it's on to a very simple way of cooking. Simmering the artichokes for a period in chicken stock infuses them with flavor, and a finishing dash of vinegar adds a touch of tartness. But the pièce de résistance is a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, adding another level of flavor. This makes a great side dish or an ingredient that can be used in a main dish like pasta or as a topping on pizza. The possibilities are limitless.
Sautéed Baby Artichokes
2 pounds baby artichokes
1 cup chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Prepare a bowl of acidulated water: a large bowl of water with the juice of two lemons. Wash the artichokes. Working with one at a time, trim each artichoke by cutting off the stem within a 1/4 inch from the base, peeling the base while removing the dark leaves until pale green leaves are visible, and lastly by cutting off the pointy tips of the remaining leaves. Quarter the artichokes and add to the bowl of acidulated water. Drain before using.
Warm olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add artichokes and stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over medium heat for about 10 to 20 minutes, until artichokes are tender. Remove the cover and continue to cook until any remaining liquid has evaporated. Add vinegar. Check seasoning. Serve with grated Parmesan. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.