I don’t know how better to describe a field of artichokes than as a shimmering sea of silver green plants growing dinosaur eggs – they are at once beautiful and funny.
Because somehow it’s hard to take an artichoke entirely seriously. The legendary French comedian Coluche famously derided artichokes as “the only dish that, when you finish eating it, there’s more on your plate than when you started.”
When we eat an artichoke, we eat the bud of a domesticated thistle, cynara scolymus, which comes from the Mediterranean and dislikes frost. It is therefore ideally suited to the mild maritime climate of Brittany, where it is never terribly cold and – have I mentioned this before? – rarely particularly hot.
While the artichoke bud is still very small, the whole head is edible. Later, as pictured above and described below, it is still a bud but only the fleshy part of the leaves and the heart can be eaten.
To eat a globe artichoke you pluck a leaf, scrape the flesh gently but firmly with the bottom front teeth, discard the leaf, and repeat, working your way toward the tender heart. The very soft central leaves can practically be eaten whole, then onto the choke – the inedible part called “hay” in French, to describe its prickly quality. The choke must be removed carefully to reveal the heart, which most consider the prized part of the artichoke, though most children find eating the leaves much more fun.
Steamed globe artichokes with butter lemon sauce
Traditionally artichoke leaves are often dipped in a simple vinaigrette or a hollandaise sauce, but in my opinion this simple butter lemon sauce far surpasses both.
1 artichoke per person
2 Tbsps butter per artichoke
1/2 lemon per artichoke
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a pot large enough to hold all the artichokes, bring 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm) of water to boil.
Just before using, cut the stems flush off the artichoke. **If this is done in advance, rub some lemon on the bottom so the artichoke doesn’t oxidize.**
Place the artichokes in the pot. **It is also possible to use a steamer, but not necessary. The bottom artichokes will touch the water slightly but the result is the same.**
Steam the artichokes for about 40-45 minutes. The artichokes are cooked when an outer leaf peels off easily and a knife slides into the heart (bottom part) of the artichoke.
For the sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan, squeeze in the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and stir well. Taste and adjust with more lemon juice if desired.
To serve, place one artichoke on each plate with the sauce in a little pot on the side, and a large bowl on the table for the discarded leaves.