- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The other day, my daughter asked me how to prepare an artichoke. She loves eating them but thought cooking them would take too long.

I reassured her that it couldn’t be easier, offering the easy recipe that follows. Best of all, this is the season for fresh artichokes, so consider cooking a few and serving them chilled, warm or even grilled.

Select globe artichokes that have tight, compact heads and tiny thorns. Don’t worry if they are a little brown, which sometimes comes from a light frost before harvesting. You will usually find that these are the tastiest and have large hearts. While thornless artichokes are available, I find them to be less flavorful with little meat on the leaves and a small heart (my favorite part).

With their delicate and mild flavor, cooked whole artichokes are the perfect vehicle for a variety of sauces. For a safe bet, try the suggested vinaigrette that follows — a favorite of mine — and then branch out into a few different flavors.

For variety, make a simple mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sea salt, or mayonnaise enriched with lemon, garlic and smoked chili powder. If pressed for time, use fresh ranch dressing and drizzle it with balsamic syrup or vinegar. Watch how fast those leaves disappear.

To eat a cooked artichoke, here are a few tips from a native Californian. Pull the leaves off, one by one, and dip the base into the sauce. Remove the inner choke thistle and cut the heart into pieces to dip and enjoy.

If you want to grill artichokes and reap an unusual smoky-sweet flavor, cook them as directed, cool and cut in half, scooping out the hairy inner choke and the thorny inner leaves.

Baste with vinaigrette, then place the artichoke halves on a medium-high-heat grill and cook for about 4 minutes per side, or until there are grill marks on the artichokes. At the table, provide a few bowls into which guests can discard the leaves. I like to offer a variety of sauces so that everyone finds something to their taste.

Help is on the way: Use a serrated spoon or small tongs to remove the hairy inner choke.

Helpful hint: If you love the taste of artichokes but don’t have time to prepare and cook them, look for frozen artichoke hearts at the supermarket. They provide all the flavor without the trouble.

I like to defrost them and either toss them in vinaigrette or use them in soups, roast chicken dishes or salads.

Chilled artichokes with mustard herbed vinaigrette

4 large artichokes

Water

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon olive oil

VINAIGRETTE:

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard (whole grain preferred)

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

3/4 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Working with 1 artichoke at a time and using a serrated knife, cut about ½ inch off the top of an artichoke to remove the main cluster of thorns. Pull small leaves off bottom near stem and discard. Trim stem flush with the bottom.

Using scissors, trim ½ inch off the top of each of the outer leaves, thus removing the thorny tips. Drop into a large bowl of cold water to which you have added the lemon juice to prevent discoloration while you trim remaining artichokes.

Fill a large saucepan or pot half full of water, add white vinegar and olive oil, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add artichokes, cover and simmer until bottoms are easily pierced with tip of a knife, 40 to 50 minutes. (Smaller artichokes will cook a bit faster. Some cooks prefer to steam artichokes in a colander above boiling water).

Using tongs, transfer artichokes, stem sides up, to a rack to drain as they cool. Invert flat bottoms onto a platter, cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours.

To make vinaigrette, in a small bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, shallot, garlic, parsley and chives.

Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking continuously until blended and thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place artichokes on a platter or individual plates and spoon some of vinaigrette on top. Serve remaining vinaigrette alongside. If desired, cut large artichokes in half before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Diane Rossen Worthington is author of 18 cookbooks. To contact her, go to www.seriouslysimple.com.

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