roasted baby artichoke failure

Nearly seven years ago, my best friend bought me a subscription to Martha Stewart Living magazine as holiday present. Tearing open the wrapping paper, I caught a glimpse of a pyramid stack of rigidly squared off Rice Krispy Treat-style cereal bars on one of those ever-upbeat and brightly lit covers I recognized all too well and protested, “But I don’t read Martha Stewart!”

“Of course you don’t,” she said. “Of course not.”

Martha Stewart was fussy and domestic and a grueling perfectionist who doted on the most inane stuff and I, I, I was all of those things; I just hadn’t come to terms with it yet. I would buy the rag for long train rides and chuck it when I got to my destination; nobody had to know but me. My dirty little magazine-stand secret had dewy, dimly lit pictures of ripe melons all over it, oh yeah, but the authentic kind.

I don’t know when I stopped subscribing (odds are, I haven’t, I just move too damned much) but Martha don’t come round no more, so when we were finally reunited on a New Jersey Transit bus last week, I nearly ate the pages, most pertinently the one with the roasted baby artichokes recipe [link removed as page seems to have disappeared] as I will cook or eat anything in the whole world as long as it involved a single iota of artichoke (“even boogers?” my husband asks and I’ll spare you my answer). I love them that much.

quartered artichokes

I brought home ten miniature artichokes Tuesday night, so adorable I wanted to line them up and create monologues and dance routines for them, but hunger won out. I got to work on them, so excited about the dish I hummed the whole time. Yet, all directions followed to the letter as would make Martha proud (oh, because I do want to make her proud, I really do), 40 minutes later they remained rubbery and undercooked – by quite a bit – and again 20 and then 40 minutes after that. Nearly two hours in a 400 degree oven was all the kitchen blasphemy I could take (if I remind you it was 100 degrees outside, I will be sent to hell, no doubt) and I tried to dig in. They were still bitter. The hearts were cooked but a full minute of chewing couldn’t grind a single leaf in my eager maw.

roasted baby artichokes

Heartbroken, I threw the rest into the trash, but two days later, I still want to know where it all went wrong. But, I first have to confess this isn’t the first time a New Exciting Recipe for baby artichokes failed me; the time I grilled them last year, it was ibid with the rubbery and undercooked, even while cooking them well beyond Mark Bittman’s suggestion.

grilled baby artichokes

Mostly I’m crushed because I don’t know where this leaves me, Martha and all the plans I had for us. I suspect the only way to move past this will be over Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprints on page 176. It’s for the relationship, you see.

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41 comments on roasted baby artichoke failure

  1. Just stumbled across your blog and I’ve fallen in love with your photos! Sorry to hear about the Martha-unhappiness, but oh well, at least they looked great? Hehehe, hopefully the next time you cross paths with these globes, it’ll be much more tasty :)

  2. I’m in total infatuation with Martha, too. I’ve bought TONS of back issues of MSL off eBay, and I just love them. I love her entertaining tips the most. Her food always looks great, but I’ve had trouble with several of her recipes. I had two completely fail on me in taste, but not on looks – they were still beautiful: scones and gingerbread. She has broken my heart a few times, but I keep going back for more!

  3. Jessica

    What a charming new blog! As a fellow Martha fan, and baby artichoke eater, I have found that they turn out the best when all leaves with any bit of green are removed. It is, of course, sad to see so much artichoke potential go in the trash, but the tender yellow tiny bits that are left are very delicious roasted, so in the end it is worth it. In fact I’m surprised Martha didn’t give these instructions! Oh well, one cannot be perfect all the time.

  4. Mike

    I can’t find it, but Ina Garten has a great roasted artichoke recipe. Granted, she suggests that you eat the outside leaves by placing them in your mouth, clamping your teeth on them, and then pulling them out, scraping the artichokey goodness off of them and then discarding the particularly fibrous part of the leaf.

  5. Hey, I don’t know if you will ever see this, since it’s, um, 2 years old, but in case you never solved the baby artichoke dilemma here are my mom’s instructions for cooking them. You parboil them, THEN grill them for smoky deliciousness, and they are ridiculously good. We appear to use smaller ones that you, but I think it would still work? Anyway, artichoke season is upon us again, so….
    Man, I need to get a grill pan. And some baby artichokes.

  6. Glad it’s helpful!

    Re. the grill pan, I’ve had my eye on that–we got a Krups panini press for our wedding and I love it but it’s a PAIN to clean. Of course now there are a bunch out there that have removable plates… But the stovetop kind seems like it might be just as good. I was actually talking about the sort of grill….baskets, I guess, that let you grill small things without them falling through the cracks into the fire. I think I like anything grillish.

  7. thistle

    This is incredibly late–but I just saw this and wanted to add my two cents. I think that Kate F is right–they really need to be parboiled. And also, from the picture, you’re taking off a lot less of the outside than I do–I take off nearly all of the bright/dark green outside leaves. That might be overkill, but if you find that the hearts are cooked and the leaves are not, maybe the outside leaves are just too tough?

  8. Brittany

    Maybe Alton Brown can help you. I saw the artichoke episode of Good Eats the other night and it was very interesting!

  9. JennyLeah

    I love artichokes more than life itself. Strangely, I’ve never attempted a dry heat approach to cooking them, however, my dad (who is a chef) used to make a fabulous hot salad with grilled artichokes, eggplant, and a lemon-tahini dressing. He always parboiled the artichokes and then grilled them. I imagine parboiling would work well with roasting too?

  10. Stoich91

    Huh. I tired a Martha Stewart Recipe for impossibly deliciouso and cutie looking cupcakes, and was (nearly) scared for life, since it was one of my first-ever cake-from-scratch baking attempts. Thank God my love of cake didn’t stop at the ultimate flop from Martha…I guess pictures can be decieving, huh?

  11. this is super late, but!

    i have NEVER had a martha recipe come out good. i buy her magazines (especially the halloween one) and sigh over all the pretty pictures, but every recipe i’ve tried from her has been an inedible disaster. and i’m a good cook.

    it’s not you. it’s her.

  12. Leanne

    Love your site! Artichokes are my favorite too. My Grandmother from Sicily has the best bread crumb, parmesian, garlic stuffed steamed artichokes. Favorite dish of all time. Super easy, and so good, I can’t get myself to make them any other way. I also adapted it with the small artichokes to bake with potatos(colored), garlic, and mushrooms. Delicious as well. Haven’t met a person I have made these for that haven’t liked it, well hasn’t loved it.

  13. Jennifer

    I refuse to make any recipe from Martha anymore, have had too many disasters with her recipes… Ina on the otherhand…!

    Just came across this site today, looking forward to reading a little more!

  14. Anna

    I also just had a similar experience with roasting artichokes, which led me to believe it’s foolish to mess with the perfection that is a steamed artichoke.

  15. Erika

    I used to buy the boxes of baby chokes from Trader Joe’s, and followed their directions: Peel off all outer, green leaves, trim the bottoms, cut about the top 1/3 off each choke, quarter and soak in a lemon-water bath. Then saute them in olive oil over lowish medium heat with some salt until they are tender and caramelized. You have to do it slowly, and I leave the lid on part of the time, so they do steam a bit, but they turn out tender, nutty and delicious.

  16. Next time par-cook them by steaming or boiling in acidulated water! Sometimes I wonder if even the greatest cooks withhold some of their secrets… I have experimented with baby chokes in the past, and I highly suspect they are not privy to dry cooking techniques. They are not high-moisture vegetables and cannot provide the moisture content to steam themselves.

  17. K

    I am planning to try this challenge myself tonight. I plan to par boil them for 10 before tossing them with garlic olive oil and garlic and setting them under the broiler to brown. Fingers crossed.

  18. I agree with Kristin above. I love Martha Stewart crafts and recipe ideas and the pretty pictures but 90% of her recipes are too complicated, too bland, too unspectacular. (But her magazine is great for inspiration and I love it still!)

    (oh.. and of all the recipes i’ve tried – a modified version of her stove top clam bake and her standing roast recipes turned out nicely – but thats about it. Her desert recipes don’t stand a chance against yours :P )

    Thanks for sharing he failures too- every mistake is a chance to learn something :3

    (I tried battering and frying baby artichokes….they were good but the leaves are really tough still)

  19. julialundman

    I had a similar experience with a few of her recipes. I tried a brussel sprout recipe years ago that made me so angry! I am always wary of them now, but I still get the magazine and have been an avid fan from the beginning – mostly for the photos, gardening stuff, decorating and crafts.

  20. YLB

    Could the doneness of the artichokes be a matter of taste? They eat them raw in Italy. I haven’t learned to appreciate the raw (or al dente) artichoke so much – I feel the flavor comes through better when they’re cooked, but apparently some people like them that way.

    1. deb

      YLB — I like them raw as well but if they’re dry-grilled like this, they get tough and rubbery. I don’t think it is anyone’s ideal. If making them again (and I have), just boil the ‘chokes until they’re mostly tender, pat them dry, drizzle them with oil and grill away. Showered with lemon, salt and sometimes even Parmesan, they’re crackly and amazing.

  21. I just got back from Naples and they roast them there over a fire, but keep them covered with a wet towel as they grill. I had them in a restaurant that gets them from a person who specializes in this particular thing and then brings them into the city for restaurants (hence the outdoor, country barbecue taste). For my part though, I par-boil them. I have a tiny NYC kitchen, and sadly, no fire pit.

  22. Katie

    There’s a recipe in the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook that’s to die for. Perfect balance of nutty, tender, and a little crisp on the edges. I think it’s on the Cooks Illustrated website, as well, if you have a subscription to that.
    Hope you eventually found your artichoke nirvana!

    1. deb

      Katie — Ooh, tell me more! I have the original ATK cookbook (though they’ve probably put out 10 since then!) and an online subscription.

  23. Jen

    Deb, this just came up as a ‘Surprise Me’ feature. I share your love for both eating and looking at artichokes – so much so that they were in my bridal bouquet. Consequently, it weighed a ton, but over ten years later I love looking at my wedding portrait and seeing those baby beauties! Hope you’ve had more luck with cooking these since.

    1. LNH

      Jen, I don’t know you, but: artichokes in your wedding bouquet? You are my spirit animal! I have long claimed I’d rather receive a cluster of carciofi than a bouquet of roses. (Can’t braise roses and dip them in butter, no sir-ee.)

  24. donna joslyn

    I ran across this old issue by accident (I clicked wrong on the latest blog) and it popped up. I figure you have long since solved your artichoke sorrows – but since I grew up with them, I thought I’d add my bit.

    Big ones: Trim the sharp points. Cut off the top, and the bottom stem. Rub all over with cut lemon. Simmer for roughly 40 minutes, depending on size, in salted water with a few smashed garlic cloves, and cut & squeezed lemons. You can stuff them (hard to eat) or dip them in anything that tastes good, butter, buttermilky dressing, mayoish things, and scrape them with your teeth to eat.

    Little ones: Trim off all the green. Pop the green leaves back against themselves until they break, and knife trim the rest. Cut off tops. Stems are probably too skinny to save once you have the green off. You can save the green leaves and steam them for 10 minutes or so, to eat the regular way with mayo, aioli, or butter. Unless the artichokes are teeny tiny, cut them in half and remove any choke that might be there with sharp paring knife – keeping heart and remaining leaves intact. Stick them in acidulated lemon water, where they will keep all day just fine, in the fridge, until you need them. They’ll even keep overnight, in a pinch, although I think that’s a bit too long. When ready to cook, dry them off. You can then either fling them in chicken thighs, broth, lemon, vermouth, onion, braise whatever for 20 minutes or so. OR, and this is absolute best, fry them. Either in deep fryer, with olive oil, or in pan – oil about 1/4″ deep – half way up their sides – about 10 min on a side. They bloom. Outside leaves brown and crunchy, inside soft and total essence of artichoke. Test heart with fork. Pull out of oil onto paper towels, roll onto tray or dish, squeeze on fresh lemon juice, sprinkle with salt (I like my salt grinder – or finishing sea salt – bigger irregular pieces). Grab some first, before your guests see them, or you won’t get any. Tell people you have to test them to be sure they’re ok. Best served warm – but they get gobbled up before they’re cold. Can be a side dish – but really they’re the best appetizer ever – even vegans are happy. The prep is the time consuming part – but happily, can be done well ahead. What happens when you serve them is, someone takes the first batch plate out around to people who say thanks, and pop them in their mouths. By the time the server plate is back, everyone who has tasted them has started moving towards you by the little fryer, until there’s a crowd with their hands out snatching them and saying “my turn My turn now”. You have to slap a few hands so you can salt and lemon the next batch. Save the oil. Artichoke flavored olive oil is no bad thing to have around. I haven’t grilled them on a fire – but I’m guessing the prep would be the same – although grilling veggies is always best done without oil – and the oil put on after, with the lemon and salt. Here’s a good blog from Jim Dixon, that spends time on that.

  25. Karen Di Marcello

    DEB! Don’t be disappointed , don’t be hard on yourself!!!! I “tweaked” it…They are amazing!!!!!! I first saw your recipe through the news letter. Intrigued , i made them, tweaked adding my traditional flavorings ( garlic, salt, pepper and Italian parsley )
    – Clean chokes and put in lemon ice water.
    – pre heat oven to 400.
    line sheet with parchment , spray oil
    -remove chokes from lemon water ( okay some water travels too). Toss in second bowl with garlic, salt(!), pepper and chopped parsley. Place on cooking sheet. Bake 30 mins covered with foil or parchment. ( steaming them a bit). Remove cover and bake another 30 mins uncovered, until crispy , looking yummy and all moisture evaporated. Plate and enjoy! You can also sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top, or not. Key is to steam them a bit. Hope this helps…never give up!!!!

  26. Laurie Srebnick

    Baby Artichokes
    Dear Deb,
    I love your Smitten Kitchen web blog! My cousins wife told me about you and I’m hooked. I’ve met Martha Stewart and she’s really nice when she comes into the kitchen she always says hi to everyone (even if she doesn’t look everyone in the eye).
    So anyway, I recommend using baby artichokes look for very light green tender ones also, taking off a lot more leaves. If they’re not tender enough it’s most likely because they weren’t in season or were picked at the wrong time or just weren’t young enough. I dont think it’s your fault.
    You could try blanching them for a few minutes before sauting them or just sauteing them in a hot pay as opposed to the oven which I’m not fond of using for artichokes and the grill which looks beautiful but never cooks them enough.

    Hope you try them again!
    Best Best Wishes,
    Laurie Srebnick