Along with artichokes, spring brings with it a new crop of artichoke recipes. I have mixed feelings about that, being, personally, an artichoke purist. I believe that the best possible way to worship an artichoke is steamed, with a little dish of melted, salted garlic butter; Mr. Darcy prefers a simple aioli of mayonnnaise, creamed garlic, lemon juice, and honey; and if I happen to find a leftover artichoke fully chilled in the refrigerator, I’ll whip up a quick dressing from mayonnaise, ketchup, garlic, and lemon juice. But that’s about it. Artichoke, like lobster, should taste like itself, and not be subjected to other ingedients and preparations that swallow up its delicacy.
I fell in love with artichokes when I was six or seven and used to demand them for birthdays and other special occasions. In my family we referred to them as “The Green Dessert,” because my mother could never get the timing quite right and they would often fail to tenderize in the pot before we’d already finished everything else on our plates. Anyway, with the slight sweetness of butter or another dressing, and the creaminess of their pulp, they do in fact make a wonderful dessert, and if you’re not distracted by serious hunger pangs, the slow, elaborate process of working your way through the layers of leaves down into the heart becomes completely engrossing.
But the secret I want to tell you about artichokes, Diary, is something I’ve discovered through my own personal Artichoke Practice, but never seen in official artichoke recipe: There’s a much simpler way to keep them from browning when you trim the bottoms, stems, and leaves for cooking than preparing a bath of acidified water. I just rub the blade I’m using with a section of lemon, so it’s liberally coated with juice, and that seems to leave enough lemon on the surface you’re cutting through to prevent it from browning. (I use a serrated knife for the stems and bottoms; kitchen shears to snip off the prickly tips of the leaves; and a curved paring knife if I’m also digging out the choke.) Then I usually just rub the lemon section over the cut surface for good measure.
Last night after steaming them, we threw them on the grill outside and that added a delicious smokiness to their subtle, sensuous deliciousness.
I’ve been bitterly opposed to stuffing artichokes since ordering one in a restaurant in Little Italy once and being served a huge plate of soggy breadcrumbs stuffed into what might as well have been a green rubber serving dish. But I think based on my deep trust of Mark Bittman–whose “I Heart Artichokes” column in The New York Times Magazine last Sunday offered some intriguing variations–I might be willing to experiment. Crab stuffing? Pine-Nut-and-Ricotta Stuffing? Hmm. I’ll have to check back with you later on that.