We often use canned artichoke hearts in salads, pasta dishes and casseroles, but all too rarely do we use whole artichokes as a stand-alone side dish. Well, I just love 'em and have them two or three times in my monthly rotation. If you've been put off of artichokes simply because the preparation appears complex, just give this simple, quick and easy process a try. After a couple times, you'll be able to do it in your sleep...and you'll wonder why you haven't been having artichokes regularly forever!
When you buy an artichoke, the leaves should be mostly snug to the head, though a few spreading slightly away are just fine. Green is good, but a little browning (see picture #1) is quite acceptable. The stem should be 2 to 3 inches long to prevent spoilage of the choke (center part). The leaves have very sharp little spikes on the tips, so be careful when handling.
The entire stem is edible, but for presentation and convenience, trim it off right at the base. (see picture #2)
Use a really sharp knife to trim about 1 to 1 1/2 inches from the top See picture #3, a little sawing motion may be needed). The interior leaves may all be green or some right near the center may be a red-ish/purple-ish color.
Using a pair of sharp kitchen scissors, trim the ends of the leaves to remove any chance of spike-related injuries! (see picture #4)
Using that really sharp knife again, slice the artichoke in half along its axis. Squeeze about 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice in each half. (see picture #5) This will both add a lovely flavor and also prevent (or reduce) the browning of the cut leaves. Like potatoes or apples, artichokes tend to turn brown once they've been cut and the citric acid helps stop that. (Some browning has already started in the attached photo. This much won't affect the flavor or texture.)
Set the halves in your steamer. I usually place them cut-side up, but it really doesn't matter. Steam them on the stovetop for about 25 minutes...(see picture #6)
...You'll know they are done because you can remove one of the outer leaves with just a gentle tug.(see picture #7)
Remove one of your halves and place it on a work surface or cutting board. Note the hair-like growth at the center and the tiny red-ish leaves above them. These are not user friendly, but instead are tiny prickers that will make you choke. They need to be removed...so use a spoon or paring knife to dig them out. You want to dig just slightly below the center, as indicated by the dashed line on picture #8.
What you'll end up with should look something like picture #9, though there could be a few red-ish leaves left in the center as well. Note that *all* the hairy part is removed.
Serve with a little dipping sauce of some sort. The standards are drawn butter or simple mayonnaise, but there are literally hundreds of sauces that work. To enjoy them, pull off a leaf, dip the end you pulled off into the sauce, then scrape the meaty portion of the leaf's interior off with your teeth. The outer leaves will have very little meaty portion, but as you work your way further into the plant, the amount of meatiness and its wonderful flavor both increase. When you reach the end and have only the central "heart" remaining, simply cut it into pieces and eat it, too! The heart is the true reward for all the little tastes you got from the leaves!