The Art(ichoke) of Appetizers

Spring means fresh foods. Simply prepared and sometimes highly portable.

Can’t go wrong with an artichoke.

The “ground thistle” as its arabic name implies, is a prickly thing. Native to the mediterranean regions, it is cultivated in Italy, Spain and France and of course, here in the U.S. in California. The artichoke is ridiculously easy to prepare, fun to eat and makes a great impression on first timers (if there are any.)

Here’s how I grew up choosing, preparing and eating them.

Select an artichoke whose leaves are still tightly closed. I don’t know if this is an old wives’ tale, but I find them to be fresher when they are more compact looking.

Chop off the stem and cut a shallow “X” in the base with a knife.

With a sharp chef’s knife or serrated version, chop off about an inch of the top so that it is flat.

Invert it and place it stem side up over a steamer in about two inches of water. Cover and steam for 45 minutes or until it is fork tender when prodded about the “X” you cut into the stem.

Flip it right side up in a bowl, bring along another bowl in which to discard the leaves.

To eat: pull off a leaf and scrape the soft part over your teeth. Yum.

You may prepare a dip of melted butter and Worcestershire sauce in which to dip the leaves and eventually soak the heart.

When all the leaves have been nibbled upon, you are left with a thin layer of pale cream and purple leaves. This crown may also be nibbled on very delicately around the edges.

There you are facing the choke — the hair like filaments. Separate them from the heart using a spoon, and discard. Chop the heart into the sauce and have at it.

Some like to serve artichokes cold with a mayonnaise and garlic dip or a traditional aioli (garlic, salt, egg and olive oil) works very well. This is a conversation piece of an appetizer at a picnic.

Very small, new artichokes may be split in half and sautéed in olive oil, garlic and salt for a truly delicious starting course.

Any way you choose to have them, serve with champagne. Because everything goes nicely with champagne.

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