Artichokes, like scallop shells and leeks, have a natural shape that attracts the artist's eye. You see them painted everywhere with perfectly proportioned leaves wrapped tightly to form a ''globe,'' although it is hardly that.
The shape is definitely ''artichoke,'' to be recognized instantly in silhouette or even in a line drawing that gives us only one side and possibly the outline of a leaf or two.
They're unique. No wonder Matisse found endless fascination and inspiration as the sun hit his patch of artichokes in southern France.
Artichokes in the grocery store are another matter. With our eyes trained by artists for perfection, we head immediately for the most beautiful pyramid in the produce department, where, it's to be hoped, they are enormous and unblemished.
Few cooks include artichokes when they are feeling experimental. American menus feature them as an appetizer or a salad, one lovely whole vegetable for each diner, set on a plate hot or cold with a companion dipping sauce.
Eating them is an activity, sort of culinary play like shelling walnuts at the table or eating pickled pig's feet.
Still, the artichoke's uniqueness should stimulate us to different heights, to try them sliced thin and raw, marinated in a spicy vinaigrette, or clearing away the hard-to-eat parts and treating them as commonly as potatoes. Other countries do. Lamb Stew With Artichokes, Sauce Avgolemono 11/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder cut in 1 1/2-inch cubes 2 medium onions, chopped 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 cups beef broth 1 pound new potatoes or boiling potatoes 2 large artichokes 2 large eggs, slightly beaten 1 tablespoon flour 1 large lemon 1/4 cup chopped parsley, or fresh dill
In large saucepan or deep skillet with tight lid, saute lamb and onion in butter and oil until quite brown. Add broth and simmer gently 15 minutes.
Cut potatoes in 1-inch cubes, leaving new potatoes unpeeled, but peeling boiling potatoes. Add to lamb and cook 15 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare artichokes. Cut 1 inch off the top, break off most of the leaves, and trim stem.
Cut each artichoke into 8 pieces and parboil in plenty of salted water 10 minutes. Drain well, remove fuzzy choke and prickly leaves around it. Add to stew and continue to simmer until meat is done, 15 to 20 more minutes.
In a small bowl, beat egg, flour, and lemon juice together. Add enough broth from stew to warm mixture and return to saucepan. Tip pan and stir over moderate heat until sauce has thickened slightly, but do not boil. Serve immediately sprinkled with parsley or dill. Serves 4. Sauteed Artichokes 4 medium artichokes 3 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 large clove garlic, minced Salt and pepper
Cut 1 inch from top of each artichoke and trim dark bottom from stems. Break off most of the leaves, trim coarse tops from remaining leaves, and trim stem.
Quarter each artichoke and carefully cut out fuzzy choke and prickly leaves around it.
Heat butter and oil in large skillet and add artichoke quarters. Saute over moderate heat, turning often until lightly browned and tender when pierced with a sharp knife, about 25 minutes.
Add garlic and shake pan to distribute evenly. Add salt and pepper and continue to saute and shake pan l more minute. Serve immediately as a vegetable with roasted or sauteed meat. Serves 6.
Conversely, cut each quarter into 1/4-inch slices and saute as above. The results will be crisp and delicious. Stuffed Artichokes Sicilian 4 large artichokes 1 medium onion, minced 1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 cup olive oil 2 well-flavored Italian sausages, hot or sweet (about 6 ounces) 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary 4 anchovies, chopped, or 2 teaspoons anchovy paste 1 tablespoon capers, chopped 1 cup dry bread crumbs, preferably homemade 1 cup chicken broth 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
First prepare artichokes by cutting off the stems evenly at the base to make them stand securely. Then cut 1 inch off the top and trim remaining leaves with scissors.Cut out fuzzy choke and prickly leaves around it with a melon baller or sharp spoon. This may also be done after the artichokes have been parboiled.Bring a large saucepan full of salted water to a boil, add artichokes, and weigh them down with a plate that just fits in pan to keep them submerged in the water. Cook gently for 15 minutes. Turn upside down and leave in colander to drain. Prepare filling while artichokes are cooking. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in skillet. Add onion, garlic, and sausage with casing removed and saute until mixture begins to take on color, about 8 minutes. Add rosemary, anchovy, capers, bread crumbs, and half the cheese and stir to distribute ingredients evenly.Fill each artichoke center with filling and divide the rest of it among them, forcing a little between the outside leaves. They will look as though they are overflowing. Pour broth in a baking pan just large enough to contain artichokes and place them in it. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and drizzle on remaining 1/ 4 cup of oil. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in preheated 375 degree F. oven 30 minutes. Serve immediately as a light entree to 4, or halve and serve to 8 as a first course. Herb Mayonnaise for Cold Artichokes 1 whole egg 1/4 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard Pinch of salt 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 cup olive oil, salad oil, or mixture of both 1 cup watercress leaves, rinsed and dried 1/4 cup chopped parsley 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
Break egg into blender jar. Add mustard and salt. Cover and blend at top speed for 30 seconds, or until mixture is thick and foamy. Pour in lemon juice and blend for 10 seconds.
Uncover jar, and blending at high speed, pour oil into center of egg mixture in very thin stream of droplets. The sauce will begin to thicken after 1/2 cup has been added. If it becomes too thick, add a few drops of lemon juice. Add watercress and herbs to blender and blend just until smooth; do not overblend. Serve with cold artichokes as a first course.