I have a confession. I never—like, ever—work with fresh artichokes. I always buy canned or frozen hearts, which ask next to nothing of me. One thing leads to another, and they’re dinner. Pesto-y pasta. Feta-laden salads. Cheesy toast. Even Jacques Pepin has a similar vice, writing in his Poulets & Legumes cookbook: “I love frozen baby peas, which are the smallest, sweetest peas. Frozen artichokes are another favorite. I always keep both on hand.”
But here’s the difference: Jacques Pepin knows his way around a fresh artichoke—from how to prep them to the best way to use them—and I don’t. Maybe you don’t, either? No sweat. Every spring, I tell myself I’m going to
conquer befriend the vegetable. And this spring, I—and you!—actually will with the help of five of the most exciting chefs around the country. I asked them why they love artichokes, how they use them, and, pretty please, for all their tips and tricks. Here’s what they said.
You probably know Adrienne from the most recent season of Top Chef—she was runner-up! Eventually, she’d like to open her own restaurant, but for now, she’s working on a roaming pop-up series: “I want to test out the concepts that I’m considering,” she wrote me. “We’re looking forward to monthly pop ups in NYC, pop ups in other cities, involvement in community initiatives, and events that bring people together over a shared love of good food and a good time!”
How have you prepared artichokes over the years? In restaurants, we’re usually using full-sized artichokes, which are not as tender as baby artichokes to say the least. I’ve had to prepare a roux-based liquid (called a blanc) to hold and cook them in; peel several layers of leaves, clean them down to the heart, and cook the heart (with peeled stem still attached) until tender. From there, the artichokes have been confit, poached, stuffed, marinated, a la barigoule, panaché (sliced thinly and fanned out), and any other preparation one can dream up. All of which can be daunting as each batch usually called for 3 cases.
What’s a favorite preparation? When I’m at home, my favorite way is to fry or sauté baby artichokes. The cleaning is easier and the cooking is quick. You just have to peel off one or two layers of the outer leaves, trim the tops, cut in half and sauté with a little salt and oil.
What tricks can you share for the home cook? Artichokes shouldn’t pose a threat. You run your kitchen, not the artichokes. And you only need to make 3 or 4 so you should view it as practice, not punishment. Have a bowl of water with lemon juice (or a sprinkle of citric acid, available at most grocery and health stores) ready, and just use a small knife to peel off the outer layers. Cut around the outside until the leaves are light green, peel the stems (with a regular vegetable peeler) cut across the top to remove the sharp points, then pour the artichokes and liquid into a pot and simmer. It actually sounds more complicated than it is. When they’re tender, cut in half, season and dress with vinaigrette. Done!
Ashley’s restaurant, Beasley’s, was the first place I ate when I moved to North Carolina—and the last place I ate when I moved away. If you live in Raleigh, chances are that you’ve either dined in or heard about one of Christensen’s many, much-beloved restaurants, including Poole’s, Chuck’s, and Death & Taxes. Her bright influence on the city’s food scene earned her a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2014 and Eater’s Chef of the Year Award in 2017. We also couldn’t get enough of her cookbook.
How have you prepared artichokes over the years? One of the ways that we often use them is by freezing artichoke hearts just enough to make them easy to slice, then cutting them paper thin on a mandolin and frying them like potato chips. We use them to top dishes like lamb carpaccio at Poole's Diner, which we also top with oil cured olives, roasted red pepper relish, and yogurt.
What’s a favorite preparation? I grew up eating artichokes with my family. My mom would steam them whole and then we'd all enjoy pulling the petals off and dipping them into lemon-spiked mayo. It’s such a simple way to serve them, but so delicious. And more than that, I loved the communal aspect of it—everyone sitting around the table eating and talking and working together to get to the artichoke heart. Later on, as I began to cook professionally, I began to enjoy them as an element in more complex preparations. I especially love barigoule, the French braised artichoke dish, which I usually top with lots of fresh herbs and maybe some seared fish.
What tricks can you share for the home cook? Artichokes are most difficult to process when raw. So for those who are nervous, one great preparation would be to poach them first in a seasoned poaching liquid (water, bay, salt, thyme, black peppercorns, garlic). Once they’re tender, you can tear away the tough petals and use a paring knife to gently peel off the exterior of the stem. Then cut the artichoke in half (or in quarters, depending on the size) and grill it.
I have yet to eat at one of Erickson’s restaurants, but I feel like I already have. Her book, A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus is full of provençal- and Seattle-inspired menus. Her restaurants—she has eight and counting—share this spirit. In 2016, she won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest.
How have you prepared artichokes over the years? Pickled, braised, shaved raw with olive oil and Parmesan, in pasta, artichoke cream, in a sandwich, on pizza…
What’s a favorite preparation? My favorite way to cook artichokes is the Roman style. Young artichokes braised with lots of olive oil, lemon, garlic and maybe thyme or bay leaf. The outer leaves are peeled down to where you see the light bright green, then the stem is shaved down till you see the tender interior. From there you cut the points off the leaves straight across, down to the where the lighter green starts. This is all edible. I love this with grilled lamb chops.
My new favorite way to cook is with super tender young artichokes. I saw this at the market in Catania Sicily last year and it’s amazing. Start a fire and let the coals get to gray. Trim the tops of the artichokes and peel the stem. Then stuff/force a mixture of olive oil, parsley, garlic, lemon peel, salt and mint. Then place the artichokes cut side down in the coals. Then watch them roast. Once they are tender (test with a paring knife) they are ready to eat. Serve them with more of the salsa verde, alongside some grilled bread and burrata.
What tricks can you share for the home cook? Keep a bowl of lemon water next to you to keep them from turning brown. Plunge them into the lemon water once you have removed the leaves that you want to take off. It’s a good idea to think about what part you actually eat. That will help you feel ok removing so many leaves and cutting it down.
Ryan Hardy and Tim Caspare
Ryan is executive chef/partner at Delicious Hospitality Group, the team behind places like Charlie Bird, Legacy Records, and, what led me to him, Pasquale Jones—where Tim is the chef de cuisine. Ryan’s work at Little Nell in Aspen earned him four James Beard Award nominations for Best Chef: Southwest. Before Pasquale, Tim has worked in iconic kitchens like Eleven Madison Park in New York City and Quince and Cotogna in San Francisco. After trying an artichoke cappelletti—or “little hats,” homemade pasta—with stinging nettle, pecorino, and honey at Pasquale Jones, I couldn’t not reach out.
How have you prepared artichokes over the years? RH: Artichokes are my favorite vegetable. When I founded Rendezvous Organic Farm in Colorado, spawning a market for locally grown pork, lamb, chicken, cheese, charcuterie and heirloom Italian produce previously unavailable in the U.S., the first thing we planted was artichokes. I love to saute them with lemon, mint, olive oil, garlic and white wine.
Could you tell me more about the artichoke pasta at Pasquale Jones? TC: The artichoke cappelletti currently on the menu at Pasquale Jones is an expression of thistles in the early spring. This time of year, I’m always inspired by produce that comes before the spring season is in full bloom: pea shoots, fava leaves, nettles, etc. Artichokes, nettles, and cardoons are sort of in the same family... flowering plants with thistles. Working with an interesting honey crossed my mind and I thought a cardoon honey would complete the picture (because cardoons are in the same family as artichokes). I chose to settle on a terrific corbezzolo honey from Sardinia because of its bitterness. We finish the pasta with bee pollen and pecorino.
For the pasta filling, we turn large artichoke hearts and cook them in olive oil in a rondeau on medium heat. We add a parchment paper cartouche and allow to cook until very well caramelized. After that, we deglaze with wine to capture all that savory fond. Then we cook out the wine and pass everything through a tamis. We blend in ricotta cheese with pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
What tricks can you share for the home cook? RH: However you decide to cook/use your artichokes, pre-cleaning them properly makes a huge difference. My #1 tip is to always wear gloves because artichokes are prickly—rubber gloves work perfectly for this. My trick is to use the outer leaves that I peel off to make broth. Throw the leaves and a parmesan rind in a broth and simmer for a bit. Once your broth is ready, add potatoes (and any other vegetables) and sprinkle with Parmesan. Makes for a tasty soup!
How do you like to prep artichokes? Let us know in the comments!