Winter, we're over you.
And so is nature. The summer equinox is still a ways off, but we're finally starting to see one of our favorite spring vegetables pop up: Hellllooo, artichokes.
The edible portion of this peculiar plant is the large flower bud, part of the cynara scolymus, as it's scientifically known, which falls under the thistle family—sexy, huh? (Its sister plant, the cardoon, is another edible thistle that lacks the flower.)
The artichoke plant itself comes from the sunny Mediterranean, likely Southern Europe or North Africa. It's the Italians, though, who deserve the title Master of the Thistles. Roman nobility in particular revered the plant, and today, they're often prepared whole, braised in wine or flattened and fried to make carciofi alla Giudia (literally, "Jewish-style artichokes," a reference to their Roman Jewish roots).
We know that handling a fresh artichoke can be a bit intimidating (here's how), but, luckily, baby artichokes are picked small, so there's little or no choke to contend with inside. Trimmed and sliced very thin, then tossed with Parmesan, lemon juice, olive oil and a good dose of flaky salt, they make for a quick, easy snack.
If you do choose to go for the meatier (and more common) globe variety, try our twist on that retro party classic, spinach and artichoke dip. Instead of a gloppy, mayonnaise-based dip, we simmer the artichokes with shallots and wine before combining them with rich crème fraîche. Spooned atop garlicky toasts and sprinkled with Gruyère cheese, then baked until golden and finished with a bright spinach pesto (see the recipe), they're a little indulgent and a lot fancier than your everyday cracker-and-dip situation—which is just how we like it.