Good Eats

Math and your mouth

Departing from my usual cheery style, this week offers my tried-and-true simple microwave recipe for cooking an artichoke. You do not have to know that artichoke leaves are in the pattern of a Fibonacci series. But it helps.

So, get a sharp knife and an artichoke and prepare to be amazed.

Cut the stem off flush with the bottom so the choke will sit flat in a pan. Find a Corning ware or Pyrex microwave-proof container sized to fit the number of artichokes you wish to cook. I rarely do more than two. Tear a piece of wax paper off that will be large enough to extend well out to the sides of the artichoke to a point at least twice the height of the choke. You will be pulling these up on each side and twisting the ends together on top so don’t skimp on the wax paper.

Slice the top cone off at the point that leaves a flat spot the diameter of which is at least a third to half of the diameter of the choke at its widest spot like in the picture above. Using your kitchen scissors, trim the individual tops off the remaining undisturbed leaves to eliminate the sharp thorns so you are not stuck while eating. This will also help you avoid lawsuits. You should now have flat bottomed choke with a flat spot on top exposing a weave of tightly compacted leaves. Using your thumbs, pull those leaves apart as much as Nature will allow to create some air space. Place the choke midway in the wax paper in the ceramic pan (if doing two they may rest against each other provided they each have their own wax paper enclosure).

Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the top, allowing the juice to descend into the choke. Sprinkle seasoned salt, seasoned pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and any other seasonings you like over the juice-wetted leaves. Cut an ample pat of butter and lay it on top.

Find a rubber band, gather the sides of the wax paper up to meet at the top and twist them together to form a sort of “pouch” enclosing the choke. There will be side vents, which are fine, just make the top as tight as you can and wrap the rubber band several times around the wax paper twist to hold it all in place. Using your scissors, cut any excess wax paper off to make sure it will fit into the microwave.

Microwave on high for at least ten minutes depending on whether you have one or two and the power of your microwave. The choke, the lemon juice and butter will all get very hot. I find it usually takes more time, sometimes a total of 20 minutes. Check it at 10- then 5-minutes intervals as you go. The test is whether a leaf from the side easily yields when you pull it. It is nearly impossible to overcook it. What you want is for the leaf bases to become pliable so they will detach easily when serving. Some of the butter and lemon juice will caramelize in the bottom and leaves at the very bottom will become dry and brittle. This is not a problem. When done you should be able to shake the wax paper firmly from the top twist and the choke will drop out, ready to serve.

Put several tablespoons of mayonnaise in a cup to dip leaf bases in. Some prefer dipping in butter. Whatever.

Now for the math. Nature has arranged the leaves of plants such that they optimize exposure to sun. No politician has ever done anything that intelligent, beautiful or effective. Arrangement as a Fibonacci series appears in Nature repeatedly, not just in the artichoke. Knowing this not only should make your artichoke taste better, but should cause you to pause thoughtfully whenever some politician or journalist who never passed a math class tries to take your money or tells you how to run your life.

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