Steamed Artichokes with Lime Butter, Nectarines and Shallots

Serendipity only occurs every so often. But often, it occurs thanks to like-minded food-obsessed friends. With one, we nibbled on fried artichoke hearts over lunch while talking about how daunting most home cooks found cooking the florets, with their spiky petals that needed to be trimmed and trimmed, and her parents’ industrious habit of steaming them whole, leaving the legwork to the diners who would slather them in butter before eating. I resolved to find the perfect way to mediate this arduous task to readers. Then, upon meeting another friend for dinner that night, he promptly thrust me a bag filled with a recent Greenmarket find: artichokes. Unaware of my mission.

Clearly the stars were aligned, and something exceptional would have to happen with this fresh catch. How is it that I’ve never cooked artichokes in this blog’s recipes before? I’d steamed a whole artichoke before, but it was not pretty; the outer petals were bruised and off-smelling, it had sharp claws on its points, and once revealed, the yellow-green core hardly seemed fulfilling given the heaps of inedible clippings plus the work that went into it.

baby artichokes

So when is a daunting kitchen task not so daunting, and when does an artichoke not require so much pruning as once thought? When you have fresh baby artichoke heads at hand. We’re not used to finding these younger species in grocery stores, but the becoming bulbs currently decorate farm stands this time of year. Click to zoom in on the brushstroke-like purple blush on the ones above.

And how do you steam and prepare the ‘choke? First, you must acknowledge its steely opposition toward this very cause. In “Ode to The Artichoke,” Pablo Neruda observes the vegetable’s “unshakable” leaf-crowns, as “dressed up like a warrior.” Next, take courage. In the poem, a heroine named Maria buys one at a market: “She is not afraid of it./She examines it, she observes it/Up against the light like it was an egg.” And after cooking it, the artichoke finally submits to defeat: “Scale by scale/We strip off/The delicacy/And eat/The peaceful mush/Of its green heart.” Triumph.

Many have been foiled by the artichoke’s natural defenses, however. There can be a thin line between when its layers are edible, and when its scratchy, fibrous husks will linger in your throat, clogging its airways impolitely all throughout dinner’s next courses. Which begs the question of, why eat it, when a plant so clearly tries its best to make you not? Well, my only answer to that is that the battle is well worth the fight — the steamed artichoke heart is uniquely delicious. It requires little to season it (not even salt nor pepper is an absolute must,) and its distinctive sourness is a trait that does well when kept long, such as when pickled, or served simply right away.

It could be boiled but steaming retains more flavor and vitamins in the slender heart that ultimately proves edible. Trim the outermost petals from each artichoke, and place them in a steaming rack above boiling water. Have them a good steam (depending on size, of about ten minutes), and peel more away afterward. As you do so, scrape the insides of the petals closest to the stem with your bottom incisors, eating any flesh that’s soft enough to break from its skeletal fibers. Once the petals begin to break at the midsection, indicating it’s tender enough to eat practically whole, set aside your discarded petals (for the compost bin) and give the entire floret a trim of its tip.

steamed artichokes are trimmed and halved

Now halve or quarter your wholly edible artichoke hearts. They can be thrown onto pizza, tossed into salads, or marinated and jarred for later use from here on. Or, you can brown their sliced-open sides in a hot pan with butter (instead of dipping the petals in butter, in folksy tradition), and serve it with some juicy, seasonal fruit like chopped nectarines, and a squeeze of lime juice to flavor the leftover butter from browning, as I did on a whim with these.

It’s far from the only option you’ll have, now that the artichoke has acquiesced to such unlikely levels of gentleness. Or maybe not so unlikely, these are baby artichokes anyhow. Get them while they’re still around. Next time, instead of cooking alone, I’ll have to invite a different friend or two to eat them with me, and further spread the good artichoke karma.

Steamed Artichokes with Lime Butter, Nectarines and Shallots
(makes 1-2 appetizer-sized servings)

4 baby (3-4 inch diameter) artichokes, outermost petals trimmed
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 small nectarine (or half of one), finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
about 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Wash and trim artichokes of excess (and browning) petals and stem. Place inside a steamer rack of a large pot with water (or alternately, improvise your own steamer with an elevated bowl inide a large pot with boiling water). Keep the water boiling and cover to steam for approximately 8 minutes. Let cool and once cool enough to handle, trim outer petals until tender enough to eat whole. Trim off the tips of each artichoke to about 1/2 inch. Cut hearts into halves down the center.

Add one tablespoon butter to the pan and melt over medium-high for about 1 minute. Add the artichokes, flat cut-side down, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook one one side until lightly carmelized, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook on other side for about another minute. Remove artichokes from pan and reserve. Add the next tablespoon of butter to the pan and once it’s melted, stir together with any burnt bits to scrape at the bottojm of the pan.

Cost Calculator
(for 2 servings)

4 baby artichokes (at $4/lb): $4.50
1 nectarine (at $3/lb): $0.35
1 shallot: $0.20
2 tablespoons butter: $0.40
half a lime, salt and pepper: $0.10

Total: $5.55

Health Factor

Four brownie points: Another reason folks must have thought to go through the trouble of peeling the artichoke: they’re incredibly nutritious, with antioxidants, fiber, Vitamin A, even some calcium and a very low calorie count. Coating it in butter doesn’t help the health toll here, but adding some fresh, chopped fruit and shallots add a burst of flavor and more vitamins.

Green Factor

Eight maple leaves: Except for the lime, everything in this recipe was gathered from various Greenmarket trips: artichokes, butter, shallot and nectarine. Yes, some of these purchases were my own.

17 Responses

  1. Liv

    Thank you for the tips! I’ve always wondered how best to prepare one of these spiny little buggers.

  2. jackson

    Mmmmmm. Your recipe sounds delicious. I shall have to try it.

    My favorite method for ‘chokes is to slice the stem off flush with the bottom. This makes for an artichoke that stands upright, albeit upside-down.

    Now the choke sits before you, helpless on its back. The pointy side should be pointing right at your nose. One more slice to remove the point, parallel with the stem cut, reveals the beautiful leaf structure and the yellow interior.

    It is into this newly uncovered interior that I rudely thrust several peeled heads of garlic.

    Finally the choke is lowered into a steamer basket, atop an elixer of further goodness. I use water for the boil, with a few shakes of Old Bay, and then douse the chokes with a splash of good chicken stock, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. A squirt of Braggs liquid aminos never hurt anyone either.

    A short steam later and you’ll find no unpleasant colors, odors, or tastes… Just sublimely flavored ‘choke, redolent of garlic, and hopefully cooked to perfection.

    You barely even need butter… But why not?! Live a little! Dip to your hearts content.

    We’ll all die one day. We should eat all the artichokes we can.

  3. misha

    cool recipe, but i think i messed it up. I suspect the blunder was in not using BABY artichokes?

    None of it was ever entirely edible, and even the petals all the way in the center were prickly…..

    was this my mistake?

  4. elizabet

    wow! sweet! i’m going to try this (with earth balance ‘cuz i’m vegan)


  5. Debt Settlement Program

    complex post. simply one detail where I bicker with it. I am emailing you in detail.

  6. kim

    I love artichokes, but just so time consuming to prepare. No wonder artichoke dip is so expensive in restaurant. I love the Turkish version of artichokes as well.

  7. Nanette

    Wow – those look great! I will also do the Earth Balance sub but I love the idea of adding lime.

  8. BigGirlPhoebz

    These look delicious! I’ve used lime butter on meat before, but never on vegetables.

    Definitely going to try this, thanks!!

  9. David

    If you’re not ready for the big leagues, I suggest you take on baby artichokes first. Yes, folks, these diminutive beauties pack all the punch of their adult brethren and what’s more, they don’t need to be steamed!

    Baby artichokes can generally be found at your local Whole Foods type store, or in my case, the green grocer on my block — lucky me!

    Baby artichokes are easy to clean: as with the large version, cut the very tops off as well as the sharp ends of the outer leaves; remove any brown or bruised leaves; cut them in quarters and scrape the choke. Remember, all artichokes will discolor if they’re not immediately put in a bath of water with a bit of acid before cooking — lemon is a good choice.

    My favorite technique for baby artichoke cookery is incredibly simple: an extended sautee in a heavy — ideally copper-bottomed — skillet. Start them on high heat with olive oil and a good dash of salt and pepper for nice caramelization, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook until tender. Add a few table spoons of liquid as they cook if you’d like. The chokes will cook more quickly this way.

    An easy, simple sauce:

    When the chokes are done, remove them and return the pan to high heat. Add a tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon of grainy dijon mustard, a clove of (fresh! always fresh) minced garlic, 2 teaspoons minced shallot, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook 30 seconds,then add the juice of half a lemon and a half teaspoon of fresh thyme.

    Remove from the heat immediately and top the chokes while still the sauce is still hot.


  10. David

    um…so how do i delete my post?

  11. Neftali

    Such a great poem. Check out
    about a documentary on Neruda and the bestselling edition of translations, “The Essential Neruda”

    “The call for a more accessible collection of Neruda’s important poems is answered with City Lights’ The Essential Neruda, a 200-page edition that offers 50 of Neruda’s key poems. The editors and translators know how to extract gold from a lifetime of prolific writing. If you want a handy Neruda companion and don’t know where to begin, this is it.”
    – The Bloomsbury Review

    “What better way to celebrate the hundred years of Neruda’s glorious residence on our earth than this selection of crucial works – in both languages! – by one of the greatest poets of all time. A splendid way to begin a love affair with our Pablo or, having already succumbed to his infinite charms, revisit him passionately again and again and yet again.”
    – Ariel Dorfman, Pulitzer-prize winner author of “Death and the Maiden”

    ” …The Essential Neruda will prove to be, for most readers, the best introduction to Neruda available in English. In fact, I can think of few other books that have given me so much delight so easily. At only 234 pages (bilingual), it somehow manages to convey the fullness of Neruda’s poetic arc: Reading it is like reading the autobiography of a poetic sensibility (granted, the abridged version).”
    – The Austin Chronicle


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