April is the month of the artichoke in Italy, with the young, tender globes heralding the start of the long, sun-drenched summer months. They’ve become much more common elsewhere over the last few years too, thanks, I suspect, to the increasing popularity of the antipasti platter, featuring as it does that obligatory pile of dense, oily, delicious marinated artichokes.
Left to myself, I could eat a whole jar of marinated artichokes (try this lovely artichoke and olive dip from earlier in the year if you remain unconvinced), but I think fresh artichokes are even better. They have the same beguiling flavour but seem much more celebratory, as you can only get the young, fresh globes for a month or two in late spring.
They’re also beautiful – with their subtle, dusky colours they look like they could be from a Renaissance painting. What I like most about artichokes though is how many possibilities they present: you could make a beautiful Venetian artichoke salad with pine nuts, raisins and shavings of parmesan; you could stuff them with anchovies and breadcrumbs and serve them with orecchiette and broccoli, or you could barbecue them and serve them with a simple vinaigrette, and all would be equally lovely.
Alternatively, for a relaxed, sunny, late spring starter, you could simply steam a whole one and leave your guests to pull the petals off; dipping the tips into a dish of melted butter with lemon juice and garlic as they chat. It’s a slow way of eating, but sometimes, when you’re with friends and the evening is long, that’s all you want.
Serves 3 as a starter
1 clove of garlic, diced finely
To prepare your artichoke to have as a starter, rinse it under running water, cut off the stalk, and then steam or simmer in boiling water with a little lemon juice. After about 30 minutes, check if your artichoke is done: if you’re able to pull out a petal easily it’s ready. Drain the artichoke for a minute or two, so that any excess water runs out, and then serve piping hot with a little dish of melted butter beside it, adding lemon juice and diced garlic to the butter if you please.
Once you have pulled all of the petals out (there won’t be much flesh on them, so encourage your guests to use their teeth!), remove the hairy choke in the middle with a teaspoon (don’t eat this bit), and divide up the beautiful heart that hides beneath, serving with a little more of the melted butter, some lemon juice and a pinch of salt.