I was once sent a crate of globe artichokes. At first it seemed the most marvellous gift. I could try all those recipes that call for half a dozen or more artichoke hearts, without feeling that I was being absurdly extravagant. Bliss. And for a few days it was.

I did not so much get bored with the taste as worn down by the trimming. I could not face those huge heaps of debris that dwarfed the poor naked little base. I gave some away, but still had a dozen to reproach me.

In the end I went at them hell for leather, threw out sacks of leaves, and followed a recipe for pickled artichoke hearts that obviously emanated from somewhere where they are 10 a penny and no one has anything better to do. The recipe turned out to be a disaster and, a month or so later, all my hard work ended up in the bin.

I still blench at the prospect of trimming the leaves off more than a couple of artichokes. Four is my out-and-out maximum unless I have help. Otherwise, I like my artichokes cooked whole, to be eaten in a leisurely manner - pulling the leaves off one by one, nibbling the nugget of flesh off the bottom of each before it is discarded, then carefully scraping off the hairy choke to reveal the heart, a reward to be gobbled up in a couple of mouthfuls.

Preparing globe artichokes

There is absolutely no need to snip off the tips of the artichoke leaves. Some varieties have sharp spines, such as the beautiful Sicilian artichoke with purple leaves tipped with yellow thorns, but most of those we get here are far from vicious. More important is insect eradication: wedge the artichokes, bottom up, in a bowl of heavily salted water for a half to one hour. By then any wildlife will have floated out. Snap the stalks off close to the base, pulling some of the tougher fibres with them. Rub the bases with lemon juice. (If the artichokes are very fresh, peel the stalks and slice their tender hearts: dress as a salad with lemon, oil, salt and pepper.)

Cooking whole artichokes

The artichokes should then be boiled, leaves upwards, in salted water, lightly acidulated with lemon juice or white wine vinegar, for 30-45 minutes until the outer leaves pull away easily. Drain well and serve hot, with melted butter sharpened with a little lemon juice, or cold with a good vinaigrette or one of the following dressings (quantities should be enough for four artichokes).

Individual artichokes can also be microwaved. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and microwave on full power for about 6-8 minutes.

Sauce rougette

This vinaigrette, embellished with finely chopped shallots, is from Brittany, where they grow magnificent artichokes.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 tbs red wine vinegar

8tbs groundnut, sunflower or olive oil

3-4 shallots finely chopped

salt and pepper

Preparation: Mix the vinegar with salt and pepper and gradually whisk in the oil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the shallots and serve.

Roast tomato, garlic

and basil dressing

Ingredients: 2 plum tomatoes

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

6tbs olive oil

1/2 oz basil leaves

1tbs sherry vinegar

1/2 tsp sugar

salt and pepper

Preparation: Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and de-seed. Place halves, cut sides up, in an oiled dish that takes them fairly snugly, and tuck the garlic down between them. Drizzle over 1tbs olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 220C/425F/gas 7 for 25 minutes, until garlic is tender. Cool slightly, then scoop out the flesh of the tomatoes and peel the skin off the garlic. Put the tomato and garlic into the processor. Tear the basil leaves roughly and drop into the processor bowl with the vinegar, sugar and some salt and pepper. Set the motor going and whizz the mixture until fairly smooth. Gradually trickle in the remaining olive oil to give a thick dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Tarragon and sour cream dressing

Ingredients: 1/4 pint (150ml) soured cream or creme frache

1tbs tarragon or white wine vinegar

1/2 tbs finely chopped fresh tarragon

1/2 tbs finely chopped fresh chives

1/2 tbs finely chopped fresh parsley

3tbs sunflower oil

pinch or two of sugar

salt and pepper

Preparation: Mix all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Artichoke hearts

Acidulate a bowl of water with the juice of a lemon to prevent excessive browning (there is no way to stop this altogether). Snap off the stalk, rub the base with the cut side of a lemon. Snap off the leaves with your hands until you get to the tender inner core. Now, with a small sharp knife, trim off the bases of the leaves to expose the heart. Again, wipe with lemon as you work. Finally, insert the knife between the bottom of the remaining cone of leaves and the heart, pushing it right through to the centre, then swivel it round to cut off the cone and with any luck most of the choke. If some of the hairs remain, scrape or cut them out. As soon as each heart is fully exposed, drop into the acidulated water.

Diced artichoke heart is delicious sauteed slowly in olive oil until browned and tender. To stretch a few hearts into a more substantial offering, saute with diced carrot and potato.

Artichokes Constantinople style

Artichoke and vegetable stews, braised slowly with olive oil, are to be found all around the Mediterranean. This version, flavoured with dill and lemon juice, is good served hot or cold. The recipe comes from Rena Salaman's fully revised classic Greek Food, published by HarperCollins.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients: 4 trimmed artichoke hearts

juice of 1 lemon

1 bunch of spring onions, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 in (4cm) lengths

1/4 pint (150ml) olive oil

4 medium carrots, sliced

3-4tbs chopped fresh dill

8oz (225g) small new potatoes

salt and pepper

Preparation: Heat the oil in a wide saucepan (about 10in/25cm across). Add the spring onions and stir for a minute or so over a gentle heat. Now add the carrots and most of the dill (save a little to sprinkle over at the end). Keep stirring for a further 2-3 minutes over a low heat. Now add about 1/2 pint (290ml) water and the lemon juice and bring slowly to the boil. Finally, add the artichoke hearts, stalk-side upwards, and the new potatoes. If necessary, add a little more hot water - just enough to cover the artichokes. Put the lid on the pan and simmer slowly for 35-40 minutes until artichokes are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning and sprinkle with remaining dill just before serving.

Fusilli al carciofi

I first made this pasta with artichokes and pancetta using just two artichokes. The sauce was superb, but it did not seem noticeably artichokey as they were simply swallowed up in the whole. It is far better made with at least three artichokes, if not four. It can be put together several hours in advance and reheated when the pasta is almost cooked. If you cannot get Italian pancetta, use unsmoked streaky bacon instead.

Serves 4


1lb (450g) fusilli, or other pasta shapes

a little olive oil

For the sauce:

3-4 trimmed artichoke hearts

5tbs olive oil

4oz (110g) pancetta, cut into thin strips

2tbs tomato puree

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

3 shallots, sliced

1 1/2 tsp dried oregano

salt and pepper

To serve: freshly grated parmesan

Preparation: Cut the artichokes in half and slice thinly. Drop into acidulated water if not using immediately. Drain thoroughly and dry before cooking.

Warm oil in a wide frying pan over a moderately brisk heat. Add artichokes, pancetta and shallots and saute for about 2 minutes. Now add garlic and saute for a couple of minutes longer. Add tomato puree, oregano, salt, pepper and enough water to almost - but not quite - cover the contents of the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes until artichokes are tender and liquid reduced to a rich sauce. Adjust seasoning.

Cook the fusilli as usual in boiling, lightly salted water to which you have added a drizzle of olive oil. Drain well and tip into a warm serving dish. Toss with the artichoke mixture (reheated if necessary) and about 3tbs freshly grated parmesan. Serve immediately, with extra cheese for those who want it.