Demystifying the artichoke |

Demystifying the artichoke

Special to the Daily Don't let artichokes intimidate you. With a little understanding and practice you can grow to love them.

Do artichokes intimidate you? Just looking at those bundles of hard, spiked leaves is enough to send cooks running for cover. But don’t run too far – with a little understanding and practice, you can be an artichoke wizard!

Several varieties of artichokes are harvested throughout the year, but they are all prepared the same way. Choose individuals that are heavy for their size and look freshly picked. Don’t worry if the green leaves are tinged with brown, these “winter kissed” artichokes have just been exposed to a little frost – which does not affect quality.

There are several ways to tackle an artichoke; here is the method I find the easiest. It may seem tricky at first, but after two or three, you’ll be a pro.

If your artichoke has sharp leaf tips that bother you, just cut them off. Place the artichoke on a cutting board and hold by the stem, leaf tips facing away from you. Slide a heavy chef’s knife in the direction the leaves are pointing, slicing off tips.

Now split the artichoke into two identical halves – cutting from stem to tip. Leave as halves for stuffing, or split into quarters for even easier choke removal.

Locate the bristly choke in the center and where it connects to the heart. With a paring knife, cut the thistles from the heart, cutting from the second or third leaf on one side and guiding your knife tip down in a half circle motion. The idea is to separate the choke from the heart and cut through the first few layers of baby leaves surrounding the choke.

If your cut is correct, you can simply pop out the choke with the first layer or two of leaves. If it resists, cut deeper and try again; take care, the thistles may get out of hand. If so, simply rinse away. Immediately place into water with lemon juice to inhibit browning.

Steam or boil in salted water with lemon and herbs until tender and leaves pull away with a little tug, about 20-30 minutes. Now fully cooked, your artichoke can be stuffed, grilled, marinated or served with dipping sauce. To eat, remove leaves one by one and scrape the ‘meat’ from the inside of the leaves with your teeth. When all the leaves are gone, dig into that tasty artichoke heart.

Artichokes really are simple to prepare, and the best way to learn is practice. Don’t worry if you mangle a few, they’ll still taste fine. It’s time to end the intimidation. Understand artichokes and you’ll learn to unlock their wonder.

Buon Appetito. Salùte!

Chef Mick Rosacci

Chef Michael Angelo (Mick) Rosacci and family own and operate Tony’s Meats & Specialty Foods and Tony Rosacci’s Fine Catering in Littleton and Centennial. More recipes are available at

Artichoke perfection

This is the easiest, and some think the most perfect way, to serve an artichoke.

Allow at least one half artichoke per person. Prepare artichokes for cooking – remove leaf tips if desired, half or quarter and remove choke. Immediately place in a pot of boiling, salted water with a generous squeeze of lemon. Fresh rosemary or other herbs also can be added. Boil until tender, about 25 minutes.

Drain artichokes and immediately place on individual plates. Place one pat of sweet butter into each quarter or half, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and serve (fresh lemon zest and herbs also are quite nice). The center can be filled with stuffing, aioli, herb butter, olive oil, balsamico or salad dressing.

Grilled artichokes

Prepare artichoke as in the “artichoke perfection” recipe above, taking care not to overcook. Drain artichokes and cool. Cover with plastic until time to grill.

Drizzle or mist artichoke with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over medium high heat until nicely grill-marked and heated through. Serve with more olive oil, herb butter, balsamico or your favorite dip.

Italian stuffed artichokes (delizia di carciofi ripieni)

4 prepared artichokes, warm

juice of one lemon

2 links sweet Italian sausage

1/3 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 cups day-old Italian bread, cubed 1/4 inch

2-3 tablespoons pignoli (pine nuts)

salt and pepper

2-3 tablespoons grated parmigiano-reggiano

Remove sausage from casing and brown, set aside. Heat olive oil and garlic in skillet until garlic begins to sizzle. Add crumbs, pignoli and cook; stirring, until bread is golden, about 5 minutes. Add back sausage.

Coat a baking dish with olive oil and add artichokes. Lightly spoon stuffing into centers, distributing ingredients evenly. Sprinkle tops with cheese. Add a little water to baking dish.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake until cheese browns, about 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Artichokes, avocados and peppers

2 large avocados, cubed

1/4 cup roasted red peppers, diced

Russian, Catalina or French dressing to taste

4 prepared artichokes

Gently mix avocados and roasted pepper (a combination of red and yellow peppers looks stunning in this recipe) with prepared Russian, Catalina or French dressing to taste. Stuff into prepared chilled artichoke and serve at room temperature.

Shrimp stuffed artichokes

4 large artichokes, washed and trimmed

1 pound rock or gulf shrimp

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill or tarragon

1 tablespoon, or more, lemon juice

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Split, choke and boil artichokes, reserve at room temperature. Meanwhile, sauté the shrimp in butter just until it changes color, about 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature.

Toss the shrimp with the parsley, herbs and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Blend the oil and mayonnaise together, add to the shrimp mixture and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, adding additional lemon juice if necessary. Fill the artichokes with the mixture and serve. Can be done in advance and chilled.

Artichoke provençal

1/4 cup olive oil, separated

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

2 tablespoons chopped shallots

4 ounces scallops

4 ounces rock or gulf shrimp

3 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, button or crimini

2 lemons, juiced

3/4 cups fish stock or clam juice

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons capers

3 green onions, sliced (greens only)

2 ounces butter, room temperature

2 ounces flour

2 jumbo or extra-large artichokes, steamed, halved and choke removed

Cover the bottom of a sauté pan with 1/8 cup olive oil and heat. Add the garlic and shallot to pan, and sauté until light brown in color. Add the bay scallops and shrimp and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overcook scallops and shrimp. Remove from heat.

In another sauté pan, add the remaining 1/8 cup olive oil and heat. Add tomatoes, mushrooms, lemon juice, clam juice, white wine and capers. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce liquid by 25 percent.

Add the reserved seafood to the mixture of tomatoes and mushrooms. Add the green onions. In a small bowl, make a beurre manie by combining the butter and the flour and mixing until a paste is formed. Add the beurre manie to the mixture and whisk to incorporate. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Place artichoke halves in a soup bowl and ladle mixture over artichoke. Serves 2.

Chef Michael Jackson, Charlie Moss

Garlic aioli (the classic artichoke dip)

2-3 cloves fresh garlic

2 eggs

pinch kosher or sea salt

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the garlic and salt in the mortar and grind to a paste. Simmer the eggs in boiling water for 2 minutes and then separate the eggs and add the now pasteurized yolks and the garlic paste to a bowl, slowly adding the oil and whipping with a whisk. The finished product should look like mayonnaise. Can also be made in a food processor.

Herb butter (great with artichokes and more)

Blend 1 tablespoon each of chopped, fresh rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley with one cup softened butter. Can be used immediately, or shape into a log, wrap in plastic, twisting ends like a candy wrapper, and chill – cutting off pats as needed. Great with artichokes, grilled rustic breads, veggies or melted over a steak.

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