( SERVES 6 )
There are lots of interesting ways to eat this delicate, nutty-flavoured thistle and the simplest way to cook them is in lots of salted, boiling water with lemon juice. If you grow them you can pick them very young, cut in half and eat the base raw - just dipped in vinaigrette. You can also halve them, cook them for five minutes, remove the choke then grill or fry them in lemon-flavoured oil. This is very good with aioli. They are wonderful in pastas, risottos and soups and particularly tasty with chicken and veal liver. Middle Eastern folk eat them in salads with broad beans and peas, tossed with bacon and mint and shallots. Italians love cooking artichokes with rabbit, thyme, garlic, anchovies and tomatoes, especially in papillote (parchment paper or tin foil) which makes everything meltingly tender. To eat my stuffed artichokes, arrange large napkins or small tablecloths around and have plenty of finger bowls. Drag the flesh off the tender bases of the leaves with your teeth, eating up the stuffing and keep pulling them off until you get to the centre. Discard the furry choke and devour the heart - which is the point of the whole exercise. Wash your fingers in the bowls of hot, lemon infused water and thank the universe for seasonal delicacies.
- Chop stalks off close to the base of the artichokes so they can sit flat. Trim tips off outer leaves with scissors so they look neat.
- In a food processor roughly blend breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. You'll have to do it in several lots.
- Stuff this mixture down in between as many leaves of the artichoke as possible. You won't be able to get to the inside ones.
- The artichoke finishes up with its leaves sticking out, bursting with the stuffing.
- Heat the oven to 180C and place the artichokes in a roasting tray. Drizzle them copiously with olive oil and bake at least one hour or until tender - this means when a skewer is easily passed through the base. Baste frequently with the oil.