A couple of weeks ago I made a momentous decision. Scanning the list of vegetables in my regular organic box delivery, I saw the words ‘globe artichoke’. I thought about it for a second. Artichokes have always evaded my culinary skills. I’ve tried a few different preparation methods, but invariably end up with tough, inedible leaves and a hairy choke inside that I don’t know what to do with.
Whenever I saw them trying to sneak into my Abel and Cole box, I would resolutely assign them to the ‘not this week’ list. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t choose the ‘never send’ option instead. Perhaps it’s because I’m partial to a slippery artichoke heart peeking out from under rocket leaves, with a few curls of salty parmesan and a generous drizzle of good olive oil. Or maybe I couldn’t quite accept that this vegetable (technically a thistle) would defeat me. It might also be that with big changes looming in my life and a new career developing, I thought I might finally be able to have a go at cracking the mystery of the artichoke.
In my kitchen full of cookery books, I was sure at least one would offer some helpful tips. Then I thought of my Australian culinary hero, Maggie Beer. After spending a large part of Christmas in Australia with my nose buried in ‘Maggie’s Harvest’, I bought my very own copy for the UK. Maggie had already carefully guided me through my first ever meat pie, which, as a non-meat eater, is not something I’d bothered making before. The chunks of slow cooked beef chuck and red wine with a sour-cream pastry were met with satisfied sighs of delight by my willing taste testers. I figured I’d be safe in Maggie’s hands.
Looking at the tough, spiky artichoke petals of the two specimens on my worktop, this time I felt no fear. Maggie’s recipe of braised artichokes with mushrooms (I used shitake) sounded perfect. I made an addition of salad potatoes and chioggia beetroot to make it a bit more substantial.
Following Maggie’s instructions, I cut the stems off to just below the base and pulled off some of the outer leaves. Slicing the heads in half, I scooped out the small hairy centre, and dunked the bulbs straight into a marinade to stop them going a funny colour. Maggie’s version uses verjuice, which is a little easier to come by in Australia. I substituted a mix of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and water. So far, it seemed pretty straightforward.
I popped the artichokes into a frying pan with some olive oil to seal them. This was followed by the root vegetables and a bay leaf fresh from my brother-in-law’s tree, plus the marinade and some more olive oil. It all the bubbled away gently for 45 minutes under baking parchment. Following the addition of quickly butter-fried mushrooms, thyme, and a handful of cherry tomatoes, I put a lid over the whole thing for another 20 minutes.
With a mild amount of trepidation, I lifted the lid for a final time. It certainly smelled promising, with a pungent mix of butter, vinegar and thyme. The insides of the artichokes looked soft, which was more than I’d ever achieved before. I prodded the centres with my knife. It cut through easily; success! The ‘chokes had a lovely mellow earthiness tempered by the slight tartness of the vinegar, and it tasted good. I said a small prayer of thanks to Maggie, and promised her next time I’d be a bit more brutal and remove even more outer leaves. I was pleased that finally, after many years of confusion and frustration, I’d finally cooked edible artichokes and I’d never be tempted to ‘skip’ artichokes in my delivery again.
You can find Maggie Beer’s original recipe on her website