Artichokes. The very mention of them used to send a ripple of fear through my body. When I would pass them in the market in Montreal I couldn’t help but approach and reach out to pick one up, then my terror would take over as I zoomed in on those pointy tips and that unapologetic stem. It would look at me, snarling as if to say, “What? You got a problem with me?” Such a bully. I mean, aren’t artichokes technically thistles? Where do they get off, anyway?
Finally I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t let this gnarly green veg get the better of me! So I started snarling back, and then I hit a breakthrough. I actually bought one and brought it home. Aha! So there, you prickly little monster! You’re in my fridge! What are you gonna do about it? Ah yes, I felt quite proud of myself. I even bragged to a fellow food lover: “Oh I picked up the most gorgeous artichoke from the market yesterday!” “Cool! What are you going to do with it?” And then it hit me. I had taken the thing captive without any idea as to how to bring it under my submission. It had won again!
Time and again I tried dragging artichokes to my
lair apartment, where they would stay crammed in my crisper until finally I would resort to the ever-predictable Throw It in a Pot With Water and Dip It in Butter. Not that this was not delicious. But with each splosh of the leaf in the melted butter, I knew with undeniable certainty: This artichoke has me beat.
I reluctantly gave it a rest for a while and moved on to tackling other feats. One of which, was to move to South America. 4 months in to our move, I was strolling through the supermarket near our apartment, mini dictionary in hand and a familiar feeling of foggy confusion over what I was seeing. (The meat section still has me baffled. “What cut of beef is that? Wait, that’s not beef…”) I mumble to myself a lot in the supermarket. I’m pretty sure the guys who stalk the shelves have come to refer to me as ‘that crazy white lady’. Ah well.
So there I am, strolling, mumbling, when my eyes catch something that immediately triggers a familiar feeling inside me. My eyes narrow, my mouth tightens and my fist clenches around my Larousse Spanish/English. “Artichokes. So we meet again.” They stare back at me, with equal intensity. Their appearance is somewhat altered; missing are the pointy spikes I am used to on the tips of the leaves. And the snarls come out in rapid Spanish, which I think I understand but cannot be sure. And they know it.
But here’s the thing with all that Latin confidence: I have moved to another continent where I had never before visited, surrounded by people speaking a language I had never before learned. If I can do that, I can beat this artichoke! It was time.
Take a deep breath. Look at the artichokes head on, and show them who’s boss.
There are many schools of thought on taking an artichoke apart. I just started tearing into those hard outer leaves with my hands. It felt more savage and appropriate. You can lop the top off with a knife, but I didn’t cut too much off at first, because I preferred to keep more than I needed, rather than cutting too far down and losing tasty edible bits! You can always trim more later.
Once you’ve got the rough, dark green leaves off, it’s time to deal with the stem. Often people will just tear it off and chuck it, but there is a lot of flavor in that stem! Using a peeler, carefully peel the outer skin of the stem and trim off the very bottom.
You can either rub the artichokes with your piece of lemon, or you can place them as you go in a bowl of water with the lemon piece and some lemon juice.
Once your artichokes are all broken down, you can go ahead and trim any excess off the top before slicing into quarters or even eighths. In a pot over medium heat, combine sliced artichoke, vinegar, lemon piece, a few sprigs of thyme, peppercorns, pinch of salt and enough olive oil to just cover the artichokes.
Cover with a lid so that the oil will not splatter and give you a nasty burn. (I’m telling you, you just can’t trust these artichokes! Give them time with the other ingredients and they’ll turn them against you.) Cook for 10-15 minutes until artichokes are tender.
Let them come to room temperature and transfer to a glass jar. Add your sliced jalapeño. I did not cook the jalapeño with the artichokes, because the heat would have overpowered the flavor of the artichokes. (I mean, I wanted to break these artichokes in, but I have principles.) Marinating them with raw jalapeño, on the other hand, imparts a subtle heat that lingers but doesn’t hit you over the head.
Oh! And the great thing about marinating them in oil (as opposed to a vinegar/water mixture) is that you can use the oil in your cooking, so nothing goes to waste. And the flavor it imparts is fantastic!
So it took a big move to a foreign country to finally, finally get the better of these little beasts. And I have to say, in the process of gaining mastery over these artichokes, I like to think we’ve found peace with one another in a respectful, albeit cautious, coexistence.