Veg to Table: Artichoke

Illustration: Ellen Blanc

Like me, I imagine many Brits will have tasted their first artichoke on top of a pizza — I’m pretty certain my earliest hit was from Pizza Express sometime in the 2000s, having just polished off a plate of doughballs. After that sweet first taste, I remember wondering why artichokes weren’t everywhere and on everything. They tasted so rich for a vegetable, almost creamy, meaning I couldn’t work out why they didn’t share the same common status of the peas and carrots on my dinner plate.

Of course, it’s only when you see an uncooked globe artichoke (not to be confused with the unrelated Jerusalem artichoke) that you realise the reason behind their scarcity. Not only are they a bit of a faff to get into, the majority of the vegetable also ends up getting thrown into the compost bin, which feels slightly disheartening. Now, these are both valid frustrations — but not necessarily ones that should put you off altogether.

You can either steam the thing whole, which doesn’t strictly remove the element of food waste, but it does feel like you’re getting more bang for your buck. You then pull off individual leaves and scrape off the edible part at the end with your teeth, which makes a nice way to pass a moment or two, and a solid snack to share around.

The other option is to simply grab a paring knife and embrace hacking away at it, which can be satisfying enough if you get stuck in. It also becomes more intuitive the more you do it; as your trust in yourself gradually increases, the amount you waste falls significantly — and then, of course, by the end you’re rewarded with the perfect, edible heart to do whatever you please with, just like the vignarola below.

(If you’re feeling unsure about trimming artichokes down, check out a video online— this one from Epicurious is good.)

For this instalment of Veg to Table, I had briefly considered going for the hyper-seasonal wild garlic, which has become Instagram’s favourite ingredient come springtime. The issue there, however, is that I kind of hate garlic — not just because too much of it gives me unimaginable heartburn and indigestion (you’re welcome), but also because of the way it just lingers. It gets on your hands, it stays on your breath, it just refuses to budge.

So instead I reached for the artichoke — or rather, my dad requested it... As it happens, they’ve now become his new favourite pizza topping.

Whole Artichoke with Three Sauces

Chop off the stem of the artichoke so that you can stand it upright later, then place into a steamer set over boiling water. Steam for around 30 minutes — it’s ready when you can easily pull a leaf off.

While you can’t eat the whole leaf, you can pop one in your mouth and scrape the fleshy end off with your teeth. Tastes best with a dip, which you can crack on with while the artichoke steams.

Tahini with Lemon and Dill: Put three teaspoons of tahini into a small bowl, add the zest and juice of a lemon, a teaspoon of dill and salt and stir. If it needs more liquid to loosen it, either add more lemon juice or add a splash of water until it reaches the right consistency.

Easy Aioli: Use a hand blender to blitz a heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard, an egg yolk, half a clove of garlic (grated) and oil — you’ll need around 250ml, but I’d add half in first before adding the rest gradually as needed. This method seems like it shouldn’t work, but it totally does… Usually, anyway.

Salsa Verde: Recipes for salsa verde vary, as it’s essentially just a green sauce. I just use whatever green herbs I have (parsley and mint, usually), lemon zest and juice, a couple of anchovy fillets or a teaspoon of capers, a splash of vinegar and lots of oil. Mash it all up in a pestle and mortar or blitz with a blender and season as necessary.

Vignarola with Butterbeans and Prosciutto

Vignarola is a Roman stew of artichokes, broad beans and peas — three springtime vegetables which come together in a beautiful pale green jumble that’s somehow deeply comforting and seasonally fresh at the same time.

In Rachel Roddy’s recipe for the dish, in Five Quarters and online via the Guardian, she summarises it nicely: “Tender wedges of velvety artichoke, sweet peas, buttery but slightly bitter broad beans, all bound by a weave of smothered onion, make a dish that celebrates and captures the fleeting brilliance of spring vegetables, and one of the best lunches I know.”

I’ve used hers as a base, subbing the spring onions more widely used in other recipes with a bog-standard white onion, adding a little more liquid to make the consistency more soupy, and throwing in not only a tin of butterbeans — inspired by another, similar braised artichoke dish from Roddy— but also the optional topping of crispy prosciutto for an extra punch of saltiness.

I’ve also gone for frozen broad beans and peas, as — like my mother — I often have these in the freezer. Larger supermarkets tend to stock frozen broad beans these days, but if you’re struggling to find any you can also often find them in Asian supermarkets. If you don’t fancy skinning them because of the labour involved, simply skip that stage, although I often find it quite therapeutic.

It really is as versatile as you want it to be, meaning you could halve the quantity of liquid to make it a good side dish for something like lamb, or keep it as a looser stew for cold days.

Serves 4

4 artichokes
400g frozen broad beans (unshelled weight)
200g frozen peas
1x onion, chopped
250ml white wine
250ml stock
1 x 400g tin of butterbeans
1 x lemon
4 x slices of prosciutto (optional)

Start by plunging the frozen broad beans into boiling water for 30 seconds or so, before removing with a slotted spoon and popping them into a bowl. Once cool, slide the shells off and discard, setting the beans to one side.

Grate the zest of the lemon into a bowl and set that aside (this will go in the stew later), then cut the rest of the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into a large bowl of water, throwing the juiced, zested halves in as well. This is for your artichokes to hang out in to stop them from discolouring.

Prepare the artichokes by slicing the top third of the head off and picking off the thicker leaves on the outside until you reach the paler, softer ones — it’ll take a few layers. Keep rubbing the whole thing with a lemon half as you work. Carefully trim the tough skin from the stalk and base of the bulb, then cut in half length-ways and remove all of the hairy choke in the middle (I normally try and slice it out with a paring knife without removing too much of the edible flesh, before scraping any stray hairs out with a teaspoon). Slice it in half lengthways again and lob all four quarters into the lemony water.

Next, fry the onion in a really good glug of olive oil until translucent. Add the artichokes and stir, before pouring in the wine and clamping the lid on the pan to leave to simmer.

After 15 minutes, gently prod an artichoke with a knife — if it slides in easily, they’re done. Add the butterbeans and half of the stock, before turning the heat up slightly and leaving to cook for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, now’s a good time to tear up some of that prosciutto and fry in a little olive oil until golden and crispy.

Finally, add the broad beans, frozen peas, reserved lemon zest, mint and parsley and simmer for a few minutes. If it needs more liquid, top up with some of the stock.

Check for seasoning, serve into bowls and top with lashings of olive oil, parmesan and the crispy prosciutto.

With the leftovers, I had one portion topped with a poached egg and another stirred through pasta — both heaped with oil and parmesan. I think it would go nicely with a big ball of burrata plonked on top, or it would make a great side dish for lamb chops, roast chicken or pan-fried fish. Told you it was versatile.

Artichokes, Roman Style (Carciofi alla Romana)

If you’re new to prepping artichokes, Marcella Hazan recommends starting with a Roman-style braise, which can act as the starting point for many other dishes. In The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, she shares a good tip about knowing when to stop removing the leaves: “Do not take off the paler bottom end of the leaf because at that point it is tender and quite edible. […] Keep pulling off single leaves until you expose a central cone of leaves that are green only at the tip, and whose paler, whitish base is at least 4 cm/1½ in high.”

The artichokes are then stuffed and rubbed with a mix of parsley, mint, garlic and black pepper, before being cooked in olive oil and water for 35–40 minutes before being eaten as antipasti.

If you don’t have her book, check out this recipe on Cookist (you may need to translate the page!)

Artichoke Cream

Another way of eating artichokes is to cream them, creating a thick sauce that can be used to stir through pasta, top bruschetta or as a dip/condiment. It’s sold in jars throughout Italy, but you can also make it at home pretty easily — some recipes rely on the natural creaminess of artichoke, while others might call for some added help with creme fraiche or soft cheese, like this one.

Similarly, I like the look of this creamy artichoke soup, which uses pre-cooked artichokes from a can. I suspect you’ll need a very good blender if you want to get it as smooth as the one in the recipe, mind you…

Recipes Saved On My Instagram

Jennifer Joyce’s Carciofi Agrodolce

Credit: Instagram/@jenniferjoyce01

Grilled Artichokes on Butter Bean Mash From Lottie’s Table

Journalist currently working at LADbible, with previous experience at Time Out, The Skinny and others.

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