There will be a time when you’re wondering if it’s worth the effort. If scrubbing and peeling and cutting farm-fresh baby artichokes will yield enough — by the time you’re done, they’re the size of a chestnut — to make a dish. And you’ll probably get stabbed by a thorn on the end of its outer petals more than once.
Trust us: It’s worth it.
The baby artichoke — a smaller artichoke picked from lower on the plant — has advantages over those that grow larger. They don’t have a choke (the appropriately named fiber above the heart that would gag you if you consumed it), so, after trimming, you can cook the whole bulb. The workload is reversed from a full-sized artichoke: instead of steaming, then peeling away petals and scraping off meat, you’re trimming first and then munching pieces whole.
Now you may find artichokes at several Boulder County farm stands, but we grabbed some from the Black Cat set-up on Jay Road in North Boulder. There, baby artichokes go for about $15/pound — we got more than enough for $7.
Typical of the unique, flavor-forward crops Eric Skokan and team grow on their many acres in Boulder County, the baby artichokes are good enough to be the focus of whatever dish you put them in. After some minimal cooking, and a hit of lemon juice, the artichokes will taste floral and slightly sweet, and have a pleasantly soft texture.
Peeling and preparing
Scrub the baby artichokes in cold water with a brush to remove any dirt and a natural, thin film that develops on the outer petals. Cut the stem of the artichoke to about a quarter-inch from the heart (at the bottom of the bulb). Carefully peel away the thorny, tough outer leaves until you’re left with a pale green bulb. Depending on the variety of artichoke, the top of the bulb may be green or purplish-red; either way trim the tops off the artichoke, then halve or quarter the remaining bit, depending on size. If you see any choke (hairy and fibrous), scoop it out. Throw the artichokes into a bowl with cold water and lemon juice; that’ll help them retain their color, which fades quickly once exposed to oxygen. Then, choose your method of preparation. We’ve got a steam-and-sauté method (left) that’s quick and easy, but you can grill or roast them, throw them in a crock pot or pickle them.
Baby artichokes with garlic, pecorino and lemon
Prepare the baby artichokes for cooking as outlined (right). Boil one cup of water and steam the artichokes for five minutes. While the artichokes are steaming, chop half a sweet onion, two or three garlic bulbs and sauté over medium heat in a skillet. When the artichokes are done steaming, add them to the sauté pan. Feel free to add in chopped tomato, seasonings, fresh herbs from your garden, whatever calls out to you. Pull the pan off the heat after five minutes or so, dress in a healthy amount of lemon juice and/or olive oil, and sprinkle Parmesan or pecorino cheese on top if you wish. Eat straight off the plate, serve on toasted bread, mix into long-noodle pasta or fold into an omelet.