Last winter we had plenty of freezing nights, but they were always followed by warmish days. As a result, none of the artichoke plants lining my short driveway died back at all, and this spring I’ve been harvesting artichokes by the bucketload. Last year’s harvest was only a little smaller. With our warming climate, the big, gray-green, edible-budded thistle so commonplace in California gardens seems to have become an ideal perennial vegetable for the Willamette Valley.
Last year I trimmed some of the artichokes down to their hearts and pickled them. Destroying the integrity of the beautiful buds before cooking them is painful—or at least it is if you’re accustomed to serving artichokes whole, peeling off the petals one by one, and scraping every petal across your teeth. But if you tear off those tough outer petals without mercy before you cook your artichoke, you end up with a fully edible, delicious nugget that can be added to any number of dishes.
This year I decided to freeze artichokes hearts instead of pickling them. I could always pickle some of them later, I reasoned, using the recipe in The Joy of Pickling (page 195 of the third edition).
As always, I harvested my artichokes when they were young, firm, and choke-free. Old artichokes are more trouble to prepare; you must hollow out the center to remove the choke.
Whether you’re freezing or pickling artichokes, you prepare them the same way:
Frozen Artichoke Hearts
Rinse the artichokes one at a time, holding them upright under running water to wash out any earwigs. Turn the artichokes upside down in a colander to drain.
Prepare a bowl of acidulated water, enough to cover all your artichoke hearts. I use vitamin C tablets—1,000 grams of vitamin C, ground in an electric coffee grinder, for each quart of cold water. Lemon water will do as well, if you happen to have a glut of lemons, as will a commercial product called Fruit Fresh. Vinegar or citric acid would be less effective.
Begin heating a large pot of water to a boil.
Pick up an artichoke, bend back the outer petals, and tear them off at the base. Keep pulling off the petals until you’re holding a cone that is yellow in its bottom half and light green at the top.
With a stainless-steel or ceramic knife, trim the stem. You don’t need to cut it away completely, since the stem of a young artichoke is tender and tasty.
Trim away any green bits remaining at the base of the artichoke.
Cut off the top of the cone, removing all of the tough green portion. Be unsparing, or you’ll regret not doing so when you find yourself spitting out fibrous bits. The petals of the finished heart should be so tightly wrapped that they are difficult to tear away.
To keep the artichoke heart from browning, plunge it upside-down into the acidulated water. (It will promptly turn right-side up.)
Prepare and submerge the rest of your artichoke hearts in the same way. As you work, occasionally dunk the hearts.
Drain the artichoke hearts, and immediately drop them into a large pot of boiling water. Blanch them for about 10 minutes. If some of them are especially large, either cut them in half before blanching them or leave them in the water longer, about 15 minutes. Time the blanching period from when the hearts enter the pot. Keep the heat on high throughout. As the hearts cook, prepare a basin of ice water.
Drain the hearts, and plunge them into the ice water.
When they are cool, drain them again. Lay them on cookie sheets, and freeze them.
Pack the frozen artichokes in freezer bags, and store them in the freezer.
After thawing frozen artichokes, steam or boil them until they are tender.
Preparing artichoke hearts for the freezer, or for pickling, will leave you with an enormous pile of outer petals. You don’t need to compost them, yet. You might instead boil or steam them and eat their tender inner flesh in the usual way, by dipping the base of each into mayonnaise, aioli, or garlicky olive oil and then scraping off the flesh with your teeth. Then the petals can go in the compost.