11/04/2011 09:35 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012


Amazingly -- even though a good portion of artichokes are inedible and preparing them is a somewhat arduous task -- artichokes are ridiculously versatile, and they're wonderful cooked any number of ways, with any number of other ingredients.

Steaming or Boiling Artichokes

Artichokes look unlike any other vegetable -- they're actually a type of thistle -- and they can be a lot of fun to eat if you steam or boil them in salted water, which is how most people have had them. They take quite a bit longer to cook than most vegetables; you'll know they're done when an outer leaf pulls away easily from the base, which will take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, sometimes even longer. The outer leaves will remain mostly fibrous but contain flavorful meat at their base that you scrape off with your teeth (preferably after dipping in olive oil, melted butter, vinaigrette, or mayonnaise), while the inner leaves are fully edible. And once you strip away all the leaves, you're left with the wonderfully tender, silky, and flavorful heart and stem.

How to Trim Artichokes

No matter how you're planning to cook them, you'll have to do a little trimming first. If you're steaming or boiling, cut off the top third or so -- there's virtually no edible material there -- then remove the very toughest outer leaves, the bottom 1/4 inch of the stem, and any pointy leaf tips. If you want to remove the feathery, inedible choke before cooking, pry open the middle of the artichoke and dig into it with a spoon to remove any fuzzy bits little by little. If you decide not to remove the choke before cooking, just eat around it and scrape it into the trash once you've gotten down to the heart and stem.

Sautéing or Braising Artichokes

If you want to sauté or braise artichokes or serve them raw, it's best to stick with small or baby artichokes. It's virtually impossible to tell the difference between a small artichoke and a true "baby" by sight; the only difference between the two is that babies don't contain chokes. With either of these, you'll still want to remove any tough outer leaves and leaf tops, unless they're extremely tender. It can be useful to quarter small artichokes lengthwise after trimming and then scrape the choke out of each quarter, which is quite a bit quicker and easier than scraping it out of a whole artichoke.

When I find small or baby artichokes, I often sauté them in butter or olive oil until they're brown and tender. They're fabulous with just a sprinkle of salt and pepper, but you can gussy them up by adding aromatic vegetables, chopped tomatoes, or salty tidbits like olives, capers, or anchovies. Serve them plain (with lemon, I'd say), toss them with pasta, or -- as I do in Sautéed Baby Artichokes with Roast Chicken Parts (recipe link below) -- serve them over simply seasoned roast or broiled meat.

Raw Artichokes

For a lighter artichoke dish, make an artichoke salad. When you're serving artichokes raw, you really have to remove every single tough part and use only the most delicate leaves, the heart, and the stem if it's tender. This may seem wasteful, but it's totally worth it; thinly sliced and tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, the hearts are elegant looking and astonishingly delicious.

Make These Artichoke Recipes

Sautéed Baby Artichokes with Roast Chicken Parts

Shaved Artichoke Salad