Classic Steamed Artichokes, and How to Cook Fennel

This is the classic way to eat those beautiful artichokes you see in the produce aisle. My mom would make these all the time when we were growing up, and we loved to dip the warm leaves in the warm butter.

It’s an elegant appetizer, but I can imagine it would also be great to serve to children — it’s true finger food, and very easy to make.

Serves 4

4 artichokes
4 cups water
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
4 garlic cloves, chopped (not minced)
4 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. salt
24 black peppercorns
24 coriander seeds
2 tsp. fennel seeds

Slice off the stem of the artichokes as close to the base as you can. Peel off the tough outer leaves of each one. If leaves are thorny, use kitchen scissors to trim the tips. Rinse thoroughly.

Place the artichokes, stem end down, in a saucepan large enough to fit a lid over the artichokes. Add the water and the rest of the ingredients, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20-35 minutes, until tender.

Cooking time will vary, so check for doneness by lifting an artichoke from the pan and piercing the bottom with the tip of a knife. If it pierces easily, it’s ready.

As soon as the artichokes are ready, melt some butter for dipping. Estimate 2-3 tablespoons per person and serve in tiny bowls at each plate. Add salt to the butter for the best taste.

Eat by peeling the leaves off one by one and dipping them in the butter, then scraping off the meaty base of the leaf with your teeth.

When most of the leaves have been peeled away, don’t throw the artichoke away — the best part is yet to come! With a short, sharp knife, carefully cut out the hairy center of the artichoke. Cut the heart into pieces and dip into the melted butter. The taste is out of this world.

How to Cook Fennel

Another vegetable that many cooks may pass over in the store is fennel bulbs, though it’s one of the vegetables commonly used in a roasting pan with turkeys or chickens. I only discovered it when on a cooking course in France three years ago. It has a sophisticated, delicate taste and a wonderful texture when cooked this way.

All you need is one fennel bulb and some olive oil to serve 4 as a side dish.

Slice off a very thin slice at the base of the bulb, then cut off each stem where it meets the bulb (all you want to be left with is the bulb). Peel off any discolored layers on the outside of the bulb.

Cut the fennel bulb lengthwise, then cut each half into four wedges.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, drop the fennel wedges in, and simmer for five minutes. Remove immediately and place on the plate. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

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