Bless the soul who first picked apart an Artichoke and discovered the heavenly object within!

In the United States, artichoke hearts are most often found already prepared. They're packed, quartered, in jars, marinated in a vinaigrette. The "Roland" brand and, on the East Coast "Sclafani" are the best; containing none of the prickly, tough " choke" which is removed during preparation. I've found other brands to be less than pristine; containing the bluish-colored choke leaves inside, as well as containing tough outer leaves that are inedible.

Fresh Artichoke Hearts

Now, cooking and isolating one's own artichoke hearts from fresh artichokes is expensive and quite an ordeal, but the flavor is worth it. Basically, prepare a large pot of salted water and bring it to a boil. Cut most of the stems (if any are left) off of the artichokes and place them in the boiling water. Cover and cook about 15 minutes. Have at the ready a bowl or pot of ice-water into which you've squeezed the juice of a lemon for about every 2 artichokes. This will keep the hearts from going grey.

Once the cooked artichokes are fully cooled, pick off the leaves (now, one would usually serve the picked leaves arranged around the heart along with a dipping sauce; vinaigrette if served cold; hollandaise or bearnaise sauce if served hot). The tough, bluish-ended leaves inside, forming the "choke" should be removed by gouging the choke out with a grapefruit spoon or other sharp-ended spoon (a melon baller works fine for this).

Assorted uses for parts of artichokes.

Artichoke hearts are available in a slighly salty solution in cans, and should be rinsed thoroughly before using to marinate yourself or cook. The very de luxe artichoke bottoms (absent the tender leaves) are an expensive, though delightful substitute for bamboo shoots, water chestnuts or other crispy, flavorful vegetables in Asian cooking. Artichoke bottoms, however, are most often called for in French cuisine.

The prepared, marinated hearts mentioned in the first paragraph hereinabove are authentically used in an Italian antipasto. They're so addictively tasty, they've made their way into relish trays, next to olives, radishes, and that sort of thing on tables all over. Suffice it to say that a few of them set atop some chunks of yesterday's chicken breast or other cooked poultry, fish or meat makes for a delightful cold luncheon salad, served on lettuce leaves.. Drizzle plenty of the marinade onto the whole thing.

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