Some years ago, my wife and I had a few couples over for dinner. The first course was an artichoke half that had been cooked a la greque (in a seasoned bouillon). As Mary and I were returning the appetizer dishes to the kitchen, we noticed that there were piles of the inedible parts of the artichoke leaves on all the plates, except one. One plate was completely clean. After the guests left, we checked under the rug, behind the curtain and in the bathroom. Nothing. Had the person eaten every portion of the leaves? Had she (we eventually figured out who it was) stuffed them into her pocket?
Though I’ve been eating artichokes for as long as I can remember, I’m often surprised that there are still many people who do not know how to prepare and eat artichokes. I’ll deal with preparation at another time, but now I want to focus on eating. Let’s assume that you are being served a cooked artichoke half, just like the Lady of the Leaves above. Where do you start?
- First, begin with the outer leaves of the artichoke, which you can pull off with your fingers as you work your way to the center of the artichoke.
- At one end of each leaf is a thin layer of edible flesh. Put that portion in your mouth and scrape off the flesh with your teeth. Repeat with the remaining leaves. The edible portion of the leaves becomes larger as you get closer to the center of the artichoke.
- The edible portion is often first dipped in a dressing, such as vinaigrette or a sauce, like mayonnaise. Don’t overdo it with the dip or you won’t taste the artichoke.
- Just before you get to the very center, leaves will become almost white with purple tips. Be careful of these leaves because their purple ends are prickly and inedible.
- After the leaves have been dispatched, you’ll see a fuzzy patch or choke, which guards the heart, the best part (which is only fair after you’ve dug through all those layers to get to it). Scrape the choke off with a spoon (a serrated grapefruit spoon works best here) or cut the heart away from it with a knife. The heart can also be dipped into a sauce or dressing.
One last bit of etiquette involves wine. Artichokes are more difficult to match with wine than most other vegetables. You need a wine with good acidity, such as Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, dry sparkling wines and dry rose wines, will also work.
We’re entering the peak artichoke season (which generally lasts through May), so now is the time to put your artichoke etiquette into practice.