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1. Buying and preparing fresh artichokes
When you're buying fresh artichokes, look for tight bulbs with a bright green colour, recommends Matthew Carmichael, executive chef at Restaurant e18hteen and Social, both in Ottawa.
Once you're ready to prepare them, start by taking off the coarser leaves closest to the stem. The outer leaves are armed with tiny thorns, so use kitchen shears to trim them away.
Then use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to take off the outer layers of the stem, which is tender and tasty once cooked, though some people prefer to remove it completely.
Next, take a sharp knife and trim about half an inch (essentially the pointy tip) off the top of the vegetable, and cut back the coarse end of the stem (if you're keeping it). To keep the artichoke from turning brown due to oxidization, you can sprinkle it with a little lemon juice when you're done.
2. How to cook artichokes
Decide whether you're going to boil or steam your artichokes, and then bring a pot of salted water to boil (if you're boiling, you can add a little lemon to the water if you like). Chef Candice Butler of the Urban Element, an Ottawa cooking school, says that either way, you want to make sure the vegetables stay moist. "If you're boiling, you want to make sure they are submerged but not squished," she recommends. "But if that isn't possible, put a piece of cheesecloth over the top of the pot while they're cooking so that they don't dry out."
Cooking an artichoke: Let the artichokes cook for 35 to 45 minutes. When you think they're done -- you're looking for a texture that's firm, but not crunchy -- Butler suggests taking them right out of the pot and pulling on an inner leaf to see if it comes out easily. If it does, the artichokes are ready. To stop the cooking process, drop them into cold water, and then drain them upside down so any excess water runs out.
3. How to serve an artichoke
The classic way to serve freshly cooked artichokes, whether they're just-cooked or chilled, is whole on a plate, accompanied a dipping sauce. Carmichael recommends combining one part prepared horseradish with three parts mayonnaise or plain yogurt, a little lemon juice and a bit of salt. "To me, that's the classic," he says. Butler favours a garlic aioli, or a little warm butter.
4. How to eat artichokes
It may take a couple of tries to get the knack, but eating artichokes is deliciously simple: Tear off a leaf, dip it into your preferred sauce and then use your teeth to scrape the fleshy part off the base of each leaf. As you work toward the coveted artichoke heart, you'll find more and more flesh on each leaf. When you do get to the centre, scrape off the fuzzy, inedible fibres you'll find there and cut into the moist choke with its delicate flavour. And then savour it -- after all, it's what you've been working toward.
5. Why artichokes are worth the effort
While cooking and eating an artichoke may seem like a lot of work, Carmichael says it's important to see it as more than a vegetable course. Artichokes are a social food, perfect to savour with wine, ideally outside on a warm evening. And they're designed for sharing with friends. "For me, eating artichoke is a way of engaging," he says. "It's a shared experience and a way of opening ourselves up to each other as we peel away the artichoke's layers."
And while working your way toward the artichoke's tasty heart may take a lot of effort, Carmichael compares it to eating something like crab. "The process is half the fun."