Artichokes and how to cook them

Artichokes are here, and obviously we love them. But how on earth are you meant to get into one?

Artichoke & salsa

In Britain it's asparagus time, but in France it's artichokes.

Enormous, fat globe jobs from Israel, more petite renditions from around Toulouse and purple beauties from nearby Perpignan.

It's a stunning vegetable. The kind of green that walks into a room to drooping jaws, dropped drinks and stained napkins.

Artichokes with parmesan butterSimply gorgeous, but what the hell do you do with it? and how the heck do you eat it? Questions I've heard more than once. I'm no expert, but here's a beginner's guide to artichoke fiddling. Artichokes are a simple replacement for a salad, although they take a wee bit longer to prepare.

I take the easy, and to my mind tastiest, option. I steam. Unsurprisingly the bigger the artichoke, the longer the steaming time. Anything up to 30 or 40 minutes. The smaller ones normally take around 20 minutes or so. Larger artichokes can be slightly bitter compared to their smaller cousins.

You'll need a good inch or so of water to steam. You can also cool the water down after cooking to make a healthy iced artichoke tea. Before steaming, lop the stalk off. Some people also add garlic and lemon to the water. You can tell when your artichoke is cooked by nimbly taking off a leaf. If it falls off easily, it's probably cooked. But, to be sure - cool it down and take a bite from the bottom of the leaf i.e. the part nearest the innards of artichoke. It's a small part, but this is the only part of the leaf that is edible.

You eat it by, how sChargrilled artichokeshould I say this, scraping your teeth along the leaf to scoop the flesh. It has an incredibly soft texture, or it should have if it's cooked... If not, steam for a bit longer. Some people prefer their artichokes cold, or cool. Either way, you can eat them freshly cooked or the next day. They will keep in the fridge.

The only other thing you'll need to prepare is a vinaigrette salad dressing. You eat by plucking the leaves and dipping the fleshy part into the dressing. Make sure you have a large plate on the table to dispose of the leaves. You might be surprised just how much larger artichoke debris is in relation to the parts you eat.

Elise has some excellent instructions on how to attack an artichoke on her blog. Although she denudes the outer forestation before cooking. OK, so not all the outer leaves are good or even edible, but a full artichoke with all its leaves looks a lot nicer on the plate than a trimmed job.

Artichoke dipLastly, the most succulent, chunky, edible part is buried deep inside - the artichoke heart. Once you've devoured the leaves you'll find a stack of 'hair' hiding the heart below. The hair is inedible. Rip it out and add it to the mountain of debris you'll now have. Once your artichoke is hairless, you'll be left with the heart and the remains of the stem.

Now you can enjoy the deep, soft and subtle flavour of the fleshiest part of this incredible green. If that's all a bit too simple for you, try rustling up an artichoke soup, a salad or bang them in the oven and roast them.

You can watch our guide on how to prepare a globe artichoke here, or discover all of our artichoke recipes.