I have an exceptionally vivid and distinct memory of coming across my first artichoke flower. As a native Californian I had seen my fair share of artichokes in markets and on plates, but never in the field. I was visiting an organic garden plot sometime in the mid-90s and came upon a plant that, while looking vaguely familiar, also looked severely alien. It was as if a pineapple had been grafted onto a sunflower stalk and been adorned with a purple crown that looked like a firework blossom in suspended animation. “What is that?” I asked the farmer. He grabbed it and leaned it over toward me like a microphone I was supposed to speak a few words into, and said, “What, you don’t know an artichoke when you see it?”
I, like many people, love artichokes but find their versatility somewhat lacking. While there is nothing wrong with a steamed artichoke in butter sauce, the cholesterol hit, as well as the lack of imagination leaves something to be desired. Considering the severity of this perennial thistle and how it looks like it may bite back before you get the best of it, it seems that the intrepid culinary explorers that decided “this looks good to eat” could have also imagined a preparation that was a bit more evolved and fitting of this odd thistled globe.
The fact is there is more than one way to consume an artichoke. Besides an array of preparations, an artichoke can be made into an herbal tea or even a liquor (Cynar). Artichokes can be stuffed, fried, grilled, pureed into soups, and even served raw in salad (I kid you not). Melissa Clark, writing for The New York Times, recently shared an exceptional recipe of Fregola with Artichokes, along with a primer on artichoke basics (you can see it here).
What are some of your favorite bits of artichoke creativity? Are you a heart person or a leaf person? Is working with the architecture of the vegetable an impediment to your ingenuity? Any recipes that you might have that will change the way we look at, or think about, an artichoke?