Thistle do nicely
For a lot of people, artichokes are probably one of the more intimidating vegetables to cook. But once you’ve given them a crack, it does get easier.
A mistake people make is thinking an artichoke can itself be a meal. It really is an accompaniment – to roast pork, for instance.
This recipe is probably one of the easiest ways I know to cook artichokes. But there’s no avoiding the task of preparing an artichoke, unless of course you are in Turkey, where they are sold peeled. I’m not quite sure what is used to prevent these artichokes from discolouring, but it seems like a pretty great idea.
To prepare an artichoke, I like to trim the top – literally cut off the top half of the artichoke head, straight through the petals. I then peel the tough outer leaves, just with my hands. From there, I trim back the stem and base of the artichoke until the white flesh is revealed. People often use a paring knife for this, but I prefer to use a vegetable peeler as it’s easier and more precise. The green outer skin of the artichoke is incredibly bitter, but if you cut too far in, you lose too much of the white flesh, which is where the artichoke’s worth lies.
Once peeled, cut the artichoke in half lengthways and remove the small furry heart of the artichoke, also known as the choke. Another mistake is not being thorough enough at this point, which can leave behind an unpleasant texture after cooking.
Having prepared the artichoke, I place the head in a container of acidulated water to halt oxidation.
The first time I ate an artichoke, I ordered it in a French restaurant as an entree. Out came a whole artichoke – an enormous thing – that had been boiled and was served with vinaigrette on the side. I suppose at the time I ordered it out of curiosity. When it landed on the table I had no clue what to do with the foreign vegetable. Fortunately the kind proprietor gave me a lesson in how to eat artichoke vinaigrette. Working from the base, I broke off each petal, dipped it in the vinaigrette, and then scrapped the flesh from the petal with my teeth.
I think it’s quite remarkable that such a rough and hardy thistle can be so delicate and delicious.
Roast artichokes with almonds and mint
– 2 lemons
– 12 baby artichokes or 4 large artichokes
– 1/3 cup blanched almonds
– 3 tbsp butter
– 3 tbsp oil
– small handful mint leaves
Half fill a mixing bowl with cold water. Add the juice of one lemon to the water; drop the squeezed-out lemon halves into the water too. Artichokes discolour very quickly when they are cut and the acidulated water will slow this process. As you prepare each artichoke keep it in this water while you finish preparing the rest.
Snap the tough, green outer leaves off the artichokes until you reach the leaves that are almost completely yellow and feel softer than the outer ones.
Use a vegetable peeler to remove the peel around the base and stem of the artichoke. Cut off the tip of the artichoke to remove any remaining green, leaving behind only yellow leaves.
Slice the artichokes in half (or quarters if you are using large artichokes). The “choke” of the artichoke is a bed of hairy-looking filaments in the heart of the artichoke. Often the choke hasn’t yet developed in baby artichokes, but if it has, use a teaspoon to scrape it out.
Cut the almonds in half lengthways. Melt two tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan and fry the nuts over a low heat until they are pale gold. Drain the nuts and set aside.
Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
Heat three tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and place the artichokes cut-side-down in the pan (work in batches, if necessary). Cook them over a medium heat until they are golden. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the pan and flip the artichokes over. Place the frying pan in the oven for six minutes or until the artichokes are tender.
To serve the artichokes, pile them onto a serving dish and sprinkle with salt and the zest and juice of half a lemon. Tear mint leaves over the top and strew with fried almonds.
2016 Commune of Buttons ABCD chardonnay, Adelaide Hills ($40) – Mark Williamson, wine buyer for Cumulus Inc, Cumulus Up and the Builders Arms Hotel
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 5, 2016 as "Roast artichokes with almonds and mint". Subscribe here.