In the Eiffel Tower near the bank of the River Seine, in the summer of 1957, I ate my first artichoke ever. It came to the table with a little bowl of melted butter and fresh lemon juice. Delicious and exotic! Our artichokes and their dipping sauce cost our family a dollar a serving, an extravagance then, but the view from the Eiffel tower factored largely in the price.
We had only that spring arrived in France with a squadron of US Air Force planes and their crews. My husband, then a captain, had preceded me and our three children, found a house in a French village and imported us. It was our first trip overseas. We had a lot to celebrate when as a reunited family we adventured to Paris for the first time. Fortunately, I still remembered a little of my high school French, enough to build on in communicating with neighbors, grocer, restaurant servers, and servants. Yes! We had a maid. Four-year old son Johnny soon spoke Franglish: “Coupez me a slice of pan, too, s’il vous plait, Madame.”
So, the other day, when I saw large artichokes offered in the store at two dollars each, nostalgia seized me. I grabbed one. But how to cook it? My copy of Joy of Cooking had recipes only for hors d’oeuvres of frozen artichoke hearts. My Greek cookbook, too, ignored raw, whole artichokes.
Joy’s authors’ opinion was that an artichoke will cook in 45 minutes. I clipped the thorns from my artichoke’s petals with my kitchen scissors and sawed off the top half inch of the huge bud with a sharp serrated knife. I cut the stem off close to it’s base, halved the bud vertically, and removed the fluff, then filled a 6-cup saucepan about three-fourths full of water, sliced half a lemon and added it with a teaspoon of salt to the kettle. A couple of tablespoons of olive oil add flavor but makes them greasy. I brought the water to a boil, slipped the artichoke halves in and cooked them fork tender.
With a large slotted spoon, I withdrew and drained the artichoke halves. They would have cooked in 30 minutes or less, I believe, because one of the halves shed its petals. I and son John, white-bearded now, and I ate them with vinaigrette. They were good, but with lemon juice in melted butter they would have been magnificent.
A Japanese teacup is ideal for making and serving the dipping sauce. Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in small bowls. Squeeze half a small lemon into them. (You’ll get more juice from a lemon if you microwave it for a few seconds to warm it. Remove the seeds.)
To eat an artichoke: Cook as described above Pluck and eat petals one by one. Dip the base of a petal. Eat the soft part and discard the rest of the petal. Continue until all the petals have yielded up their goodness and are now in the discard pile, thence to become compost.