Don't overcook artichokes

We don't see a lot of artichokes at local farmers markets. A few vendors have some but there are never enough to warrant even a mention in this column. Keep your eyes open and if you spot some, snag them and stay quiet about the source if you ever want to get them again.

Most of the artichokes in the United States are grown in or near the Monterey Peninsula, planted by Italian immigrants from Liguria.

"Artichokes should always be planted within view of the sea," Joe Imwalle of Imwalle Gardens told me years ago. The artichoke loves the salty sea air and thrives in that foggy climate. It loves frost, too; artichokes are rarely better than in the spring following a few good winter freezes.

Preparing artichokes is quite easy though I have found that many home cooks, even accomplished ones, often overcook them, so that both the delicious tips of the leaves and the hearts are mushy. They shouldn't be. There should be a bit of resistance when you take a bite - not a lot, but some.

The best way to achieve this is to test the artichoke frequently as it cooks, as it is impossible to say how long it will take. Some artichokes are tender after being boiled or steamed for 15 minutes; others take quite a bit longer.

I begin testing after 15 minutes. Because I've been cooking artichokes since I was a kid, I simply pull at a leaf about halfway between the outer leaves and the center ones and if it comes loose with a bit of resistance, I know it's done. Another method is to use tongs to lift one artichoke out of the pan, turn it stem end up and press a bamboo skewer into the center of the stem through the heart. Again, there should be some resistance but not a lot; you shouldn't need to push too hard. If an artichoke is not done on the first test, cook for 5 minutes more and test again. Eventually, you'll know intuitively how much longer a not-quite-done artichoke needs to cook.

Although a farmers market is not the place to look for artichokes - retail farm stands and supermarkets are the best sources - you'll likely find cardoons, a close cousin of the artichoke, only at farmers markets. The cardoon plant resembles the artichoke plant, though we eat the stalks, not the thistle. And these stalks must be protected from the sun or they become too bitter to eat. If you see long silvery strands - they look like something out of one of C. S. Lewis's science fiction novels - there's a good chance it's a cardoon. If you're feeling adventurous, take some home and give them a try. They are delicious, in a subtle, earthy way, well worth the effort it takes to prepare them.

This is one of those dishes that really doesn't need a recipe. It is home cooking at its simplest. It is a favorite spring dish and, if I don't have green garlic, I don't worry. If I have leeks, I'll use them instead and if I don't I'll either add a few cloves of garlic or make the dish with just artichokes and potatoes.

Artichokes, Green Garlic & Fingerling Potatoes

Makes 2 to 4 servings

8 to 10 green garlic stalks, washed and roots trimmed away

4 large Green Globe artichokes, trimmed (see Note below)

- Olive oil

- Kosher salt

1 pound small fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half lengthwise

4 tablespoons (? stick) butter, preferably organic

- Black pepper in a mill

- Hot hearth bread, optional

Cut the green garlics into 2 to 2?-inch lengths.

Select a saucepan that will hold the artichokes snuggly and put the cut green garlic into the saucepan.

After trimming the artichokes, drizzle about half a teaspoon of olive oil into the center of each one and set in the saucepan, on top of the green garlic. Cover the artichokes with water, season with about a tablespoon of kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Uncover and test for doneness by tugging at a leaf; if it comes off easily, remove the artichokes from the heat; if it doesn't, continue cooking, testing every few minutes, until an inner leaf can be removed with just a bit of resistance.

Use tongs to transfer the artichokes to a bowl; cover with a tea towel to keep warm.

Add the potatoes to the cooking water and simmer until the potatoes are tender, from 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size. Remove from the heat. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the potatoes to a bowl, add the butter and toss as it melts.

To serve, divide the potatoes and butter between soup plates and season with salt and several turns of black pepper. Add an artichoke and ladle some of the cooking liquid over everything and serve immediately. Serve with hot hearth bread alongside, if using, for sopping up the delicious juices.

If you like, you can strain and reserve the cooking liquid to use in a simple artichoke risotto. For a recipe, visit this column's companion blog, Eat This Now, at

Note: To trim an artichoke, set it on its side on a heavy work surface and use a sharp knife to make a crosswise cut at the tip; remove about the first inch of the leaves. Trim the stem so that it is flush with the body of the artichoke.

This dish is fairly labor intensive and not the sort of thing you'll want to make on a busy week night when you simply need dinner. But if you love spending time in the kitchen, consider this when you're having friends over for an informal gathering. >

Deep Fried Cardoons with Anchovy Mayonnaise

Makes 4 to 6 servings

- Anchovy Mayonnaise (see Note below)

- Juice of 1 large lemon

10 to 12 small to medium cardoon stalks

- Kosher salt

- Pure olive oil or other neutral oil for deep frying

2 cups buttermilk

1 large egg, beaten

2 cups all-purpose white flour

3 ounces (? cup) grated dry Jack cheese

Make the anchovy mayonnaise, put it into a small serving bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Fill a large bowl half full with cool water and add the lemon juice. Set aside.

Trim the silvery leaves and any thorns off each cardoon, remove tough strings and skin and cut into 3-inch lengths; drop the cut cardoons into the acidulated water.

Fill a large pot half full with water, season generously with salt - about 2 tablespoons - and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the cardoons, stir, adjust the heat so that the water boils but not too vigorously and cook until the cardoons are tender. Test after 10 minutes; it can take as long as 30 minutes, depending on the size and age of the cardoons.

Transfer the cooked cardoons to tea towels, dry thoroughly and cool.

Pour 3 to 4 inches of oil into a large heavy pot and set over medium heat until the temperature reaches 365 degrees.

Set 1 brown grocery bag nextto the stove for draining the fried cardoons and set another brown paper bag on a large serving platter.

Combine the buttermilk and egg in a medium bowl and put the flour in a second medium bowl.

Dip 3 or 4 pieces of cardoon into the buttermilk mixture, dredge them in the flour and drop, carefully, into the hot oil. Use a long-handled wooden spoon to separate the cardoons and cook until crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Use a large slotted spoon to transfer to the brown bag to drain.

Continue until all cardoons have been cooked. Transfer the cooked cardoons to the clean bag on the platters and scatter the cheese on top. Serve immediately, with the anchovy mayonnaise alongside.

Note: To make anchovy mayonnaise, put 3 peeled garlic cloves in a suribachi (mortar and pestle), sprinkle with salt and pound into a paste. Add 2 minced anchovy fillets and pound together until smooth. Fold into ?-cup of homemade or Best Foods brand mayonnaise, add a squeeze of lime juice, taste and correct for salt and acid.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at

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