A member of the thistle family, artichokes are starting to appear in farmers markets and in CSA baskets, but if you've never cooked with artichokes before, they might seem intimidating. It's true that they're not quite as easy to cook as asparagus or peas, but once you've got the hang of it, artichokes are a great addition to spring menus.
The large, round artichokes that you see in the supermarket and some local markets are called globe artichokes. Select specimens that are heavy for their size; when you squeeze an artichoke, the leaves should squeak, a sign that the artichoke is fresh. To prepare globe artichokes, slice off the pointy tips of the leaves and slice the base off so that it will sit upright. You can pull out the pale leaves at the center and scoop the choke out with a spoon at this point, but when I'm eating artichokes at home, I leave these in and dispose of them later, when it's easier. (This is perhaps why, in France, globe artichokes are known as the poor man's food, because there's more on your plate when you're done eating than when you begin.)
Cook globe artichokes in a pot of boiling water with a little bit of lemon juice added. Cook for about 35-45 minutes, until you can easily pull off a leaf. Drain upside down on paper towels.
Serve with sauces for dipping: homemade mayonnaise, homemade aioli or homemade tzatziki are all great choices.
Baby Purple Artichokes
Grown in California and Italy, baby purple artichokes are much smaller than their globe cousins and often don't have a fuzzy choke at all. The best way to cook baby artichokes is by roasting them. Remove the outer leaves and cut off the pointy tips and the base; then slice each artichoke in half and toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil, salt to taste and a couple of unpeeled cloves of garlic. Roast for about 40 minutes, tossing once, until the artichokes are tender when pierced with a fork.
Both varieties of artichokes can also be grilled, so bear these recipes in mind when getting ready for grilling season: