A Tender Heart

Béatrice Peltre takes a moment to appreciate one of her favorite vegetables: the artichoke.

Photograph by Béatrice Peltre

There’s something intimidating about artichokes. Maybe it’s their scale-like outer leaves, or the fact that at first sight they look like something you’d find among cacti in a desert. Maybe it’s because their name features the word choke. Yet when you venture beneath the exterior, you find concealed within them a soft, buttery delight unlike any other—called, fittingly, a tender heart. Just like with most human beings, when you get to the heart of the artichoke you discover something rather different from what you’d have guessed at a glance.

Artichokes are one of my favorite vegetables, but they are something of a handful. As a kid my mom used to serve them steamed whole, alongside a mustardy vinaigrette that we would dip the leaves into and then eat, one by one. It was a slow but rewarding process, and by the time we reached the heart we could truly appreciate its flavor and texture.

If you choose not to simply steam artichokes whole like my mother did, their preparation takes patience—but the patience pays off. For my stuffed artichoke recipe, you remove the exterior leaves and cut away the hairy “choke.” You’re left with a meaty, delicate vessel, perfect to fill with a layer of rich creamy hummus and a medley of vibrant herbs and tender vegetables.

Artichoke Bottoms with Peas, Carrots, and Asparagus

8 medium globe artichokes
⅓ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil + more to serve
¼ red onion, finely chopped
1 small leek (light-green parts only), finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 carrots, peeled, and finely sliced
2 cups peas (fresh or frozen)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 sprig tarragon
3⅓ cups water
12 asparagus stalks
1 small head of lettuce, pale leaves only
Sea salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
¾ cup natural plain hummus

To clean the artichokes: In a large bowl, combine ¼ cup of the lemon juice with water. Cut the stem off each artichoke and remove the outer tough leaves by hand, continuing until you reach the tender, pale leaves. Using a large knife, slice off the remaining leaves so only the base of the artichoke remains. Scrape the hairy choke with a melon baller or a spoon. Place the artichokes in the lemon water as you go. When you’ve prepared all the artichokes, drain and place them in a steamer. Steam for 10 minutes until tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Set aside and keep warm.

In a shallow pan, heat the olive oil then add the onion and leek and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for 1 minute. Add the carrots and cook for 3 minutes. Add the peas, sugar, tarragon, and remaining water, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and lettuce leaves, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the rest of the herbs, and season with salt and pepper. Place the artichoke bottoms in a serving dish and spread 1½ teaspoons hummus on the base of each. Then spoon in the vegetable mixture. Drizzle with the remaining lemon juice and olive oil, and serve.

Baby Artichoke and Arugula Salad with Avocado and Mozzarella

Serves 4

For the dressing

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
5 tablespoons olive oil

For the salad

¼ cup lemon juice
3 cups water
16 baby artichokes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
5 cups baby arugula
6 small mozzarella di Bufala, halved or quartered
1 avocado, peeled, pitted,
and sliced
3 tablespoons slivered almonds

To clean the artichokes: Combine ¼ cup lemon juice with 3 cups water in a large bowl. Cut half an inch off the top of each artichoke, and trim one inch off the stem. Remove the bottom and outer leaves by hand, continuing until you reach the tender, pale-green leaves. Using a knife, clean the ragged areas along the stem. Cut each artichoke in half lengthwise and place the halves in the lemon water as you go. When they are all cleaned and cut, drain and pat them dry with a kitchen towel.

In a frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the artichoke halves and cook on each side for 3 to 4 minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon, honey, chives, vinegar, 5 tablespoons olive oil, and pepper.

Place the arugula in a large salad bowl. Add the cooked artichokes, mozzarella, avocado, and almonds. Add the dressing to the bowl and toss gently. Serve immediately.

Recipes, food styling, photographs, and narrative by Béatrice Peltre. Find more of her work at latartinegourmande.com.