Get to heart of artichokes

When it comes to artichokes, don't be deterred by those prickly outer leaves or inner choke. Their sweet and tender hearts are worth the effort it takes to get at them.

Spring is high artichoke season, though they can also be found year-round. Choose ones that are heavy for their size and feel compact when squeezed.

Artichokes brown very quickly once you start cutting into them, but lemon helps to slow the process down. Squeeze half a lemon into a bowl of cool water and have this nearby while you work. Rub the cut surfaces with the spent lemon half and keep the prepared hearts in the lemon-water until you're ready to cook.

Snap off all the tough outer leaves until you reveal leaves that are yellow with only light green at the tips. Trim the green ragged edges from the base of the artichoke and peel away the tough skin from the stem, leaving behind only white flesh.

Next, slice off the top inch of the artichoke, removing all green tips. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. Use a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to remove the hairy-looking choke and all the small purple-tipped inner leaves. What's left is your hard-won artichoke heart.

From here, you can slice the heart into quarters or even eighths. Leave the stem attached or remove it for presentation purposes, but eat it either way. It is an extension of the heart and delicious.

Artichoke hearts can be braised, steamed, roasted or grilled. They're done when the centers are completely tender when pierced. Hearts are fantastic simply drizzled with olive oil and a little salt for an afternoon snack, but they can also make a lovely side dish.

Seared artichokes with lemon-walnut vinaigrette

Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

4 artichokes

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup shredded pecorino Romano cheese

1 small shallot, minced

1/4 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped

Freshly ground pepper

1Trim the artichokes down to the hearts. Cut off the stems; slice into thin rounds. Cut each heart into eighths. Place in a bowl of water with a little of the lemon juice.

2Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drain artichokes; add to skillet with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cover skillet; reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring once or twice, until tender when pierced with a knife, 10 minutes. If skillet gets dry, add a few tablespoons of water or white wine. Remove the lid; increase heat to medium-high. Cook until moisture evaporates and artichokes caramelize.

3Whisk the remaining 3 tablespoons of the oil with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, the cheese, shallots, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and pepper to taste in a bowl until creamy. Taste; add more lemon juice if desired. Combine the artichokes with the vinaigrette in a serving bowl; sprinkle with the walnuts. Serve warm, room temperature or cold.

Nutrition information

Per serving: 176 calories, 65% of calories from fat, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 11 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 229 mg sodium, 7 g fiber

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