The simple fact about an artichoke is this: Part of it is so tender you can slice it and eat it raw, as Italians do in salads; part of it is so tough that no cooking will ever tenderize it. There is nothing wonderful about sitting at table and scraping your teeth against an artichoke leaf to glean a minute amount of edible matter or spitting out an unchewable pellet. The Italian point of view is, if you can’t eat it, why cook it? When you are cleaning artichoke you must be absolutely ruthless and leave nothing on it that might be capable later of bringing you anything but untroubled pleasure. Always keep a lemon or two cut in half by your side while you work. It will keep the artichoke from discoloring and your hands from becoming stained. The procedure described below is applicable to any variety of artichoke, from the globes grown in California to those available in Italy, such as the ones I cleaned for the photographer in the accompanying illustrations.
- Begin by bending back the outer leaves, pulling them down toward the base of the artichoke, and snapping them off just before you reach the base (photo A). Do not take the paler bottom end of a leaf off because at that point it is tender and quite edible. As you take more leaves off and get deeper into the artichoke, the tender part at which the leaves will snap will be farther and farther from the base. Keep pulling off single leaves until you expose a central cone of leaves with a pale whitish base that may be about 1½ inches high (photo B).
- Cut off the central cone of leaves down to the tender, whitish base (photo C). Take a half lemon and rub the cut portions of the artichoke, squeezing juice over them to keep them from discoloring.
- Turn the artichoke bottoms up and, at the place where you have snapped off the outer leaves, pare away the tough green part that remains (photo D). Detach, but do not discard the stem.
- Cut the trimmed artichoke in half (photo E), and then into as many wedges as the recipe calls for.
- Cut away the fuzzy inner choke of leaves from each of the wedges (photo F). As you trim each wedge, place it in a basin of cold water into which you have squeezed the juice of half a lemon (photo G).
- Picking up the stem, you will notice, looking at the bottom, a whitish core surrounded by a layer of green. The green part is tough, the white, when cooked, soft and delicious. Pare away the green, all the way around, leaving the white intact (photo H). If very thick, cut it lengthwise in half. Add it to the basin with the lemony water and later cook it along with the rest of the artichoke.
© 1997 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.