We all have cooking tasks that, for whatever reason, we simply refuse to do — the thought of doing them prompts feelings of dread or disdain. When I think of the arrival of spring each year, I’m reminded of my personal hell: preparing artichokes.
It’s prime artichoke season and although I love seeing the pyramidal stacks at farmers markets and encourage anyone curious to cook with them, it won’t be me. I know that won’t win me popularity points with a California readership, but let me explain.
I grew up in the South at a time when artichokes came only in cans or jars or from the freezer. My mother would always make what she called “artichoke tea sandwiches” with canned artichokes, chopping and mixing them with mayonnaise and dry ranch dressing seasoning before slathering the mix between two slices of wheat bread.
She’d trim the crusts, as you must do for tea sandwiches, and set them in the fridge to get nice and cold before a party. The result was kind of like a vegan tuna fish sandwich before I knew such a thing existed.
In culinary school, when I first encountered fresh artichokes and their impenetrable outer petals — botanically, the part we eat is an immature flower bud — I was intrigued. But when I learned that before they are cooked they must be “turned” — painstakingly trimmed, pared, de-spiked and de-choked, all before they turn brown from air exposure — I felt … exhausted. The ratio of preparation work to taste payoff was egregiously unbalanced.
I appreciated knowing where the canned iterations came from but with my eyes opened to what it took to get them there, I vowed to never subjugate myself to such masochism again. Artichokes would just be something I didn’t eat again, and I swore off cooking them unless forced to for work.
Of course, I learned later that you can boil or steam the whole thing and break off the petals with ease, one by one, to dip in butter or mayonnaise, but even that seemed like too much work to someone not raised on the practice.
And as much as I now understand the value of the work that goes into preparing them for cooking, I place a higher value on the time it takes to cook almost anything else. That said, I’ll gladly spend hours picking minuscule nibbles of meat from crawfish shells, so we all have our contradictions.
You can use your freshly prepared artichokes for these recipes, but why bother? Save that work for showing off the artichoke in all its gothic glory. These recipes, using convenient canned or jarred versions, return proper balance to the work-to-reward ratio of cooking with them while highlighting their idiosyncratic flavor.
They’re artichoke recipes for those of us that love them but also want to maintain our sanity.
COLD ARTICHOKE TEA SANDWICHES
Time: 30 minutes, plus 2 hours chilling.
Yields: Serves 8.
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
1 small or ½ large shallot, minced (1/4 cup)
1 almond-sized garlic clove
8 ounces (drained weight) canned or jarred artichoke hearts, rinsed and well-drained
16 slices whole-wheat or white soft sandwich bread or pain de mie
Salty potato chips, for serving
1. In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, parsley, dill, chives, salt, pepper, paprika and shallot. Using a microplane grater, grate the garlic into the mayonnaise mixture. Using a food processor or a knife, pulse to finely chop the artichoke hearts. Add the artichokes to the mayonnaise mixture and stir to combine.
2. Arrange 8 slices of bread on a work surface and divide the artichoke filling among them, about 3-4 tablespoons each. Spread the filling to within 1/4-inch of the edges of the bread. Top each with another slice of bread, then transfer to a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap or foil. Refrigerate for at least two hours or up to two days.
3. Use a serrated knife to remove the crusts from the sandwiches, then halve, either diagonally to make two triangles or into neat rectangles. Serve the sandwiches chilled, with potato chips.
The next recipe, given to me by a friend, is a much simpler version of Italian fritti that doesn’t require making a batter or deep-frying. Make sure to buy artichokes marinated in oil only; if there is water or brine, it will affect their roasting and make them less crisp.
If you have to use water- or brine-packed artichoke quarters, drain them in a sieve, then press gently with paper towels. Scatter them on additional paper towels and let air dry for at least 30 minutes. Toss the artichokes with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a bowl, then transfer to the prepared baking sheet to roast.
Time: 35 minutes.
Yields: Serves 6-8.
2 jars (12 ounces each) oil-marinated artichoke quarters
Everyday olive oil, if needed (see note above)
Flaky sea salt
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
2. Place a colander or sieve over a bowl and add the artichoke quarters, letting their oil drain into the bowl. Transfer the artichokes to the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil from the bowl.
3. Bake the artichokes, flipping each with tongs halfway through cooking, until golden brown and crisp all over, 20-25 minutes.
4. Transfer the artichokes to a platter while hot and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
ARTICHOKES À LA BABA GHANOUJ
Time: 10 minutes.
Yields: Makes 2 cups.
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 large garlic cloves
8 ounces store-bought grilled marinated artichoke hearts or quarters, drained, or homemade roasted (see note above)
1/4 cup everyday olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/4 cup plain, full-fat Greek yogurt or vegan cashew yogurt (optional)
3 tablespoons well-mixed tahini
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, to garnish (optional)
Pita chips, for serving
1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the lemon juice, cumin and garlic and pulse to break up the garlic; let stand for 5 minutes. Add three-quarters (or 6 ounces) of the artichokes, the olive oil, yogurt, if using, and tahini, and purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Scrape the dip into a shallow bowl and use the back of a spoon to spread the puree over the bottom, creating a raised edge at the perimeter. Scatter the reserved artichoke quarters over the dip then drizzle everything with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature with pita chips.
CARCIOFI ALLA ROMANA TART
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes.
Yields: Serves 8-12.
1½ pounds (drained weight) canned or jarred artichoke hearts (about 18 total)
1 package (14 ounces) all-butter puff pastry, such as Dufour, thawed if frozen
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped mint
3 almond-size garlic cloves
1/4 cup everyday olive oil
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 large egg
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 small lemon or ½ large lemon
1. Rinse the canned artichoke hearts in cold running water then drain. Arrange the hearts, petal side down, on a double thick layer of paper towels and let drain for 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, place the sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface and use a rolling pin to smooth it into a 15-by-12-inch rectangle. Transfer the rectangle to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Using a paring knife, lightly score a ½-inch border on each side of the pastry. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use.
3. Combine the parsley and mint in a medium bowl. Remove 2 tablespoons of the combined herbs and place in a small bowl; reserve in the refrigerator until ready to use. Using a microplane grater, finely grate the garlic cloves into the bowl of herbs. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil, the wine and kosher salt.
4. After the artichokes have drained well, one by one, tip the hearts over onto their sides and cut at the indentation where the petals meet the bottom of the heart to separate them (it should be roughly at the halfway point of their length). As you cut off the bottom, transfer them (you should have about 10 ounces) to a food processor or blender and flip the petal clusters right side up once more to continue draining. Repeat with all the artichoke hearts.
5. Add the egg to the artichoke bottoms and process until mostly smooth. Scrape the artichoke puree into the bowl of herbs and stir to combine. Season with pepper.
6. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the pastry sheet from the fridge and scrape the artichoke puree in the center. Using an offset spatula or dinner knife, spread the puree evenly over the pastry, staying within the score lines. Make sure the puree is an even thickness and not domed in the center.
7. Using the palm of your hand, flatten each artichoke petal cluster into a ½-inch-thick disk (the clusters should not fall apart) then transfer each disk to pastry, arranging them evenly over the puree. Drizzle the clusters and puree with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and season liberally with cracked black pepper.
8. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through cooking, until the edges are golden brown and puffed and the artichokes are lightly browned at the edges of their petals, about 30 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack.
9. Immediately zest the lemon evenly over the top of the tart and sprinkle with the reserved chopped herbs. Serve warm or at room temperature.