You aren’t aware that something is unusual until someone else declares it is.
Growing up, my family’s rituals and eating habits were the only way that I knew. Drinking iced tea each night with dinner was what everyone else did. And eating elbow noodles with butter and parmesan cheese was and still is, breakfast.
It was my Dad’s birthday and I gushed to my cousin Brian that we were having crab legs to celebrate. Sweet, juicy crab legs that my Dad would crack open for me and pull out all the tender meat that I’d dunk in a pool of rich butter. The concerned look on Brian’s face confused me. Did he not enjoy crab legs? That night as I stood on my chair, reaching for another leg, Old Bay seasoning dripping down my arms, I proclaimed, “Brian doesn’t believe me! I eat crabs!”
I was five. And the pivotal moment when I realized that no, everyone does not eat the same thing. While food does not define who we are, it helps tell our story. Food allows us to express our memories, culture and tradition.
Artichokes are a food that even as an adult, seem unusual to others. They are a versatile vegetable and unique in every way. So when I pull out a container that holds an artichoke, I tend to get some looks.
My first memories of eating an artichoke is at my Grandmother’s house. The bright green leaves, stuffed with aromatic bread crumbs and cheese filled up orange rimmed ceramic bowls. Sometimes she would squeeze lemon juice over the leaves for an added sensorial experience. As I pulled each leaf between my teeth, the stack of “clean” leaves became higher and higher until it was time to eat the heart. If you have ever ate a fresh artichoke you understand how treasured the heart is. It is the softest part of the artichoke, located in the middle under the thick leaves, thin leaves, and hairy fibers. And like any heart, it is worth protecting. Its meat is sweet and soft. With a little touch of salt, the heart is perfectly seasoned and a treat worth eating your way to.
Here is my simple rendition of a family favorite and treasured food.
1.) Begin by thoroughly washing the artichoke.
2.) Use a knife or kitchen scissors to snip the tops of the leaves.
3.) Slice off the top portion of the artichoke, exposing the leaves. Slice the bottom of the artichoke stem so that it is about 2 inches long and flat on the bottom.
4.) There are many methods of cooking the artichoke but the one I like best is simply steaming them. If you have a steamer that would make the process that much easier, but I simply put the artichoke in a ramekin so that it is steady and not submerged in the water.
5.) The next part can be controversial but you can use whichever method works best for you. I take about 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs, a few TBS parmesan cheese, salt and peppers and mix together. I then spread the leaves and sprinkle the mixture in. Lastly, I drizzle the artichoke with some extra virgin olive oil. The oil will add a ton of flavor and make it taste extra special. Simmer the water before adding the artichoke. I make sure the water does not surpass the top of the ramekin and cover the pot with a lid so that it can steam properly. Allow to steam for 45-60 minutes or until leaves are tender enough to pull off.
6.) To remove, use tongs because it will be very hot. Place in a bowl and make sure you have a spare bowl for the leaves.
To eat: Begin by grabbing a leaf off of the artichoke. The bottom of the leaf will be the thinner part. Bite down on the top of leaf, making sure to eat the bread crumb mixture and scrape the artichoke meat off of the leaf by pulling the leaf through your teeth from top to bottom. Continue to do this for each leaf. As you get closer to the heart the leaves will become more soft and easier to eat.
For the heart, remove any remaining leaves. Use a spoon to scrape out fuzzy parts. Cut the heart up in pieces (because everyone will want a try) sprinkle a little salt on, and enjoy.
And while I can’t promise that you will love artichokes, though I can’t see why not, I think they are definitely worth trying. You never know what may become a part of your food story. And before you know it, your children will be eating artichokes at dinner thinking that everyone else in the world is doing the exact same thing.