'Remind me to tell you about the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke.'
Bette Davis as Margo Channing, 'All About Eve' (1950)
If I had to choose just one vegetable to eat for the rest of my life, it would undoubtedly be artichokes. I seem to wait all year for the couple of short months when artichoke risotto, Carciofi alla Giudia (Roman Jewish-style artichokes), artichokes braised with vermouth, and Carciofi alla Brace (grilled artichokes) are on high rotation. I've even been known to plan trips to Europe around artichoke season.
Baby artichokes, which are actually the little 'volunteer' flowers that shoot off to the sides of the main head, usually appear later in the season. A box of baby artichokes (40 or so) stripped of their tough outer petals will yield just a couple of precious jars to be stirred through pasta, sliced and used to top pizza, as antipasto, or eaten straight out of the jar; so it's not unusual for me to make several batches each season in a bid to eke them out as much as possible. Sold by the box, they should be relatively inexpensive, but it's worth noting that larger globe artichokes can also be prepared the same way should baby artichokes (carciofini) prove difficult to forage.
2 lemons, juiced
minimum 1 kilo baby artichokes (20-25 pieces)
equal parts white wine or champagne vinegar : white wine or water - to cover artichokes
1 teaspoon sea salt / 500 ml liquid
1 – 2 fresh bay leaves / jar
½ clove garlic / jar (optional)
light olive oil (or a combination of sunflower and olive oil)
Prepare a bath of acidulated water: put the lemon juice (and lemons) into a non-reactive bowl (glass or plastic) and fill with cold water.
Clean the artichokes by snapping off the tough outer leaves until you reach the tender, leaves with a yellow base. Slice off the top third of the cone, and trim and peel the stalk. Place each artichoke in the acidulated water as you work.
Combine vinegar and wine or water in a large stainless steel pot, add sea salt and bring to the boil. Drain and add the artichokes making sure there is enough liquid to cover them (this can be done in batches). Boil for about 7 - 10 minutes until they are just-tender when pierced with a knife at the base. Remove the artichokes and allow them to dry and cool completely on a clean tea towel, cut side down.
Meanwhile sterilise jars: give them a hot soapy water wash, rinse thoroughly and leave them to sit for 15 or so minutes in a low oven - remove and allow to cool. Boil the lids for ten minutes.
Carefully tuck the artichokes into the jars leaving about 1 cm headroom at the top and inserting a bay leaf, and garlic (if using) in each jar. Fill with oil and give the jar a few gentle taps to release any air bubbles. You may also slide a clean knife down the side of the jar to ease out any large pockets of air. Top up with oil as necessary - the artichokes should be completely covered.
At this stage you can opt to heat process the jars for ten minutes, or not. If kept in the fridge it's not strictly necessary. Try to wait at least a couple of weeks (better four) before eating. Unopened they will keep for 6 - 12 months.
- If you wish, you can also used larger globe artichokes, simply prepare as described, cutting each artichoke into halves or quarters depending on their size. You will also need to use a small, sharp knife to remove the hairy choke in this case.