One of our favorite memories of the Campo di’ Fiori market in Rome is watching an old man trim artichokes. He had a hooked knife and a lemon, and the leaves would just fall off as he made a spinning motion against the knife. He trimmed them so fast, it was truly astonishing. We were both mesmerized as he tossed one perfectly trimmed artichoke after another into a bin of lemon water.
We love artichokes, and the only reason we don’t make them more is that there is a fair amount of work involved in trimming them. Most of the artichoke is inedible, and it feels wrong to make something that is mostly food waste. The plus side is that you can compost the tough, inedible leaves. Never put them down the garbage disposal!
Start by working your way around the artichoke, bending back the tough green outer leaves and peeling them down until they snap. Depending on the size of the artichoke, you’ll need to remove 5-6 layers of them. You can tell when you’ve done enough by the color of the leaves. When you get to the pale green part, you can stop. Just toss all the green leaves you peel off into a bowl for the compost bin.
We found one kitchen tool that makes quick work out of trimming artichokes. Our friend Stacy sent us this peeler (also comes in a Y-shape, we’ll definitely be buying), and it is truly amazing. Our method of trimming artichokes with this peeler is based off of the traditional method but we think it’s faster and safer. Try it and let us know how it works out! You’ll just need the Piranha Peeler, a sharp chef’s knife, a lemon half, and a large bowl of cold water with the other half of the lemon squeezed into it.
Use your chef’s knife to cut off the top of the artichoke (also inedible) about 1/2″ above the last of the dark green leaves.
Now you get to use your peeler. By bending the leaves back and snapping them off, they naturally break right at the point that the artichoke becomes edible. You don’t want to remove much more artichoke flesh, but they don’t break cleanly. Work your way around the artichoke with the peeler, lightly scraping away the remaining tough, fibrous parts of the leaves. The serrated blade of the peeler will catch them and you’ll be left with a nice, clean cut.
Rub all the cut surfaces of the artichoke with the cut side of your lemon so they don’t brown (in real life, this process will have gone much quicker than it sounds, and you’ll get faster with practice).
Finally, you’ll clean the stem. The man in the market did this with a knife, but we we think the peeler makes it safer, and you won’t cut off any more of the tough outside layer than you absolutely need to. Working your way around the artichoke, starting from the base of the stem, peel up the stem and around the base of the artichoke. Once you expose the lighter flesh underneath and there are no more dark, stringy pieces, rub it with the lemon. Put a fresh cut on the base of the stem.
If you plan to braise or fry your artichokes, remove the furry “choke” from the core by pulling out the purple leaves, then scraping out the inside with a spoon. You’ll know it’s perfectly clean when there are no more furry pieces scraping off, and it will look hollow. Toss all of your perfectly clean artichokes in the bowl of cold lemon water until you’re ready to use them. If you plan to stuff or grill your artichokes, there’s no need to trim them this way.