If it seems like I am on a shrimp and tarragon kick, I am–our French tarragon plant becomes a four-foot-plus giant shrub by late June, so I start hacking it back early on to attempt to keep it in check. I love fresh tarragon with seafood, and it also is a lovely, bright compliment to the vegetal, slightly mineral flavor of the artichokes.
To prep whole artichokes, start with a large pot filled with a quart of water. Acidulate the water by slicing a couple of lemons in half and squeezing them into the water, then toss in the rinds and a bit of salt, too. Bring the water to a boil while you are trimming the chokes: using a sharp knife, slice off the stems so you have a flat base and the chokes will not tip over when stuffed. Next, slice about an inch off of the top of the artichoke and then use some kitchen shears to snip off any sharp leaf tips. Toss the cleaned artichokes immediately into the lemon water so they do not brown.
Cook at a low boil for about 30 minutes, or until the base of each artichoke is easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Strain off the water and let the artichokes cool enough to handle. At this point you want to remove the “choke” part, which is the furry unpleasantness hiding in the middle. To do this, first pull out some of the center leaves and open up the center so you have a view. Use a spoon to thoroughly scrape out all of the furry stuff. At this point I give the artichoke a good rinse under running water to remove any lingering bits of fuzz.
I did mention that this is a labor of love, did I not? Worth it.
Next prep your filling. For this I chopped up a half pound of raw shrimp and sauteed them with two tablespoons of olive oil, juice of one lemon, and juice of half an orange.
To this, stir in a third cup of good mustard, a pinch of salt and ground white pepper, and a little minced garlic. Stir in some chopped fresh tarragon and about two cups of fresh bread crumbs–to make the crumbs, just throw some dense white bread into a food processor and pulse a few times. You want the filling moist but not soggy.
This is enough filling to stuff the centers of four large artichokes–or, if you are cooking for two, fill the centers and then pack some of the stuffing into the outer leaves, too. Delicious. Place the stuffed chokes in a baking pan and squeeze the other half of that orange over the tops, and maybe drizzle on a little olive oil. I also topped each with a whole shrimp, just for show-off purposes. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.
If you really want to gild the lily–and after all of this work, really, why not?–make some of my quick, not-quite-as-horrible-for-you hollandaise sauce. It is less horrible for you because I use light butter. A lot of light butter. Here is the process: in a small bowl, whisk the juice of one lemon with two egg yolks, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of ground white pepper. In a nonstick skillet, heat as much light butter as your conscience can handle (then add a little more). When the butter is hot but not rapidly bubbling, turn off the heat and use a whisk or spoon to quickly stir in the egg yolk/lemon mixture. It will thicken immediately. If you are worried about consuming undercooked eggs, buy the pasteurized type or just go straight for the arteries and drizzle warm lemon butter over the chokes instead. Be sure to get plenty of sauce in the gaps of the outer leaves.
If you have never eaten a whole artichoke, please do not try to saw through the center with a knife (I had a college roommate try that method). Pull off the outer leaves and scrape off the tender base of each leaf with your teeth, and create a towering pile of scraped leaves on the side. Have an extra plate just for this. Scoop up bits of the filling with the leaves as you go. When you get to the center you are allowed to use a fork and knife if you like–just cut up the tender base and eat it with bits of the filling. Justify the excess sauce consumption by recalling how much work it was to prep those artichokes. Use the discarded leaves to construct houses for garden toads, or perhaps some stylish hats for dolls, but do not try to run them through your garbage disposal. They will kill it.
Artichokes: worth the hassle.
Happy, happy spring,