Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to clean an Italian artichoke step-by-step

I have loved artichokes since I can remember, long before moving to the largest artichoke producer in the world.
As a young child, I remember ordering the large, green globes in French restaurants, pulling the steamed leaves off one at a time and dipping them into melted butter.
In Italy, however, the most commonly found artichokes are not as large and round. Sure, a larger variety exists here too, the Romanesco artichoke, but smaller varieties, some of which are extremely thorny, are more readily available. They taste every bit as delicious as the globe shaped ones, but their leaves are not quite as fleshy and getting to the deliciousness hidden in their core is a little more arduous.
Prettier than a bouquet of flowers
For years I was intimidated at the thought of cleaning them but it didn't matter because in most Italian markets they clean them before/while selling them.
That is not always the case, however. And if you buy them at the supermarket, the uncleaned ones are much cheaper than the cleaned ones, not to mention they stay fresher longer than the latter. So learning this very simple skill can be useful, especially because spring is - supposedly - right around the corner and artichokes have started appearing a-plenty around here.
The first thing you will need to prepare when cleaning an artichoke is a large bowl of water with some lemon juice or vinegar in it, to keep oxidation at bay. Artichokes (and your finger nails) will tend to turn brown as soon as you start cutting them.
The next step is to get rid of the outer, tougher leaves. A suggestion: always throw out more than you think you need to, even the slightest resistance is off-putting when you are chewing. Trust me.

Then you cut off the tip. Here the same rule applies: cut off more than you think necessary. You want only the tenderest part of the vegetable.
The last (or first if you prefer) step is to shorten the stem. Here is another tip: do not throw them out!!! If you peel off the stringy outer layer, the inside is perfectly edible and delicious, which makes sense when you think it is just a extention of the heart (that we all know is the best part, right?).
Whenever you have a cleaned artichoke and stem, drop it into the bowl of acidulated water.
At this point you can go many ways. You can cook the artichokes whole or in several other ways. This variety of artichoke is small enough that you can eat the whole choke without a problem. But if you are stuffing them or cutting them into pieces for a recipe, you will now proceed to cleaning the choke out.
If you are dealing with a whole artichoke, spread open the leaves and scoop out the inner choke with a sturdy spoon. If you will be using them in pieces anyway, cut them in halves or quarters and proceed to clean with a spoon or paring knife.
Now that they are clean, go crazy!
You can make frittata, you can braise them with potaoes, parsley and garlic like I did (the trick is that the potatoes soak up all the flavor and taste like artichoke hearts too), you can use them in a risotto or a pasta sauce. Another typical preparation is to slice them very thinly and eat them raw with Parmesan flakes and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. It may sound bizzarre but it is delicious. Or you could steam them and preserve them in olive oil for when they will no longer be in season.
If, on the other hand, you are lazy and don't want all the fuss or you have some lovely Romanesco artichokes, skip this post (too late!) eat them like this.





  1. I will never forget a family reunion one year in Italy in Como when my dad's Italian friends had us over and the wife cooked these wonderful italian artichokes and we ate them whole!!!! every thing about them was soft and delicious. had been looking for these artichokes ever since! thanks for your tutorial it is very handy

    1. Sounds like you had a really good time (or at least some really great meals) that time you were in Como!!

  2. Excellent tutorial! I have to admit, I never really learned to properly trim an artichoke. In Rome, the vendors would trim them for you, which was a wonderful convenience. But it made me lazy!

    1. True, it is so simple to just buy them pre-cleaned here...

  3. This is such a great tutorial! So many people are intimidated by artichokes-I know I was before I saw someone clean one and this will be really helpful! :D

  4. I loved that in the Rialto Market you could buy the bottoms already cleaned. That was a revelation and I wish people did that here! Still, what you have shown isn't too much work and the end result is wonderful! ~ David

  5. Am equally obsessed with artichokes. Love the fact that if you place them whole on the table as a starter it doubles as table decoration and part of dinner...

  6. I really love reading and following your post as I find them extremely informative and interesting. This post is equally informative as well as interesting . Thank you for information you been putting on making your site such an interesting. I gave something for my information. Italian Cooking


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