First you pull each leaf off the choke by its thorny end and place the base in your mouth; then you drag it slowly between your front teeth to scrape off and enjoy the nutty-flavored edible flesh. Repeat 20 to 30 times and you will be rewarded by reaching the furry inedible core, which once dissected of its prickly protectors, will yield a bite or two of delectable heart.
It’s a bit of work that can’t be hurried, but the reward is tasty—especially if warm butter or a cream sauce is at hand.
There are two harvest seasons for artichokes: a short one in early autumn and the main artichoke harvest from early spring to late spring.
The artichoke is an edible thistle—you eat the flower buds before they open. There are all sizes of artichokes. The largest—called jumbo chokes–come from the end of the plant’s central stem; the smallest—called baby artichokes–from the lateral shoots lower down on the plant.
There are about 50 varieties of artichokes. The most popular for cooking are globe artichokes. “Green Globe” is the variety you will most likely find at the farm market. It is round, fat and green—a green globe—and will yield the most flesh for your enjoyment.
Almost all artichokes must be cooked—usually steamed or boiled–before they can be eaten. One variety, “Provencal”, is a small purple choke that can be eaten raw.
Artichokes can range in weight from an ounce to a pound or more. Jumbo artichokes can be stuffed with meat or seafood and vegetables and baked. Baby artichokes can be sautéed, fried, roasted, or marinated and used in salads.
Choose. Select artichokes that have crisp, tightly packed or closed leaves that are deep green in color. The leaves of a fresh artichoke will squeak when they are pressed together. An artichoke should be heavy for its size. Light feeling chokes have begun to dehydrate.
Avoid chokes that are tough, woody, or dry or that have leaves that have spread apart. If the cut end is black or the leaves have started to open, the choke is not fresh.
Size is not an indication of age when it comes to artichokes rather it is an indication of where on the plant the choke grew: the large chokes at the top and the smaller ones sprout from side stalks. The larger the artichoke, the larger the fleshy heart.
Brown streaks may a sign of age, but rather a “kiss of the frost.” Artichokes will be more intensely nutty-flavored after a frost.
Store. Artichokes are best used day of purchase; refrigerate for up to 1 week; in a plastic bag
Prepare. Before cooking an artichoke, plunge it in cold water to dislodge any debris trapped in the leaves. Then cut the stem so that it is even at the bottom and trim off any tough, outer leaves with a paring knife. Next, snip off the prickly leaf tips. Rub cut edges with lemon juice to avoid discoloration or soak the entire choke in water and lemon juice.
Cook. Stand the artichoke in a stainless steel pot with 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) of water so that it is not completely water cooked. Cook or steam the choke until the stem end is tender–about 20 to 40 minutes. Remove the thistle-like choke and the small purple leaves covering it with a teaspoon after cooking.
Pull off each leaf; dunk it in the sauce; put it in your mouth and pull, scraping the tender flesh through your teeth. Cut the tender nut-flavored bottom into bite-sized pieces, dunk in sauce and eat.
Baby artichokes can be trimmed, cooked and eaten whole.
Serve. Artichokes are always eaten cooked: boiled or steamed. Once cooked, they can be served hot, warm or cold. Serve with béchamel, butter, or hollandaise sauce.
To steam an artichoke, place it in a steamer basket over 3 inches of boiling salted water, cover and cook until tender: 15 minutes for smaller chokes, 45 minutes for large ones. To test if the artichoke is done, tug on one of the leaves; if it comes off easily the artichoke is done.
Whole cleaned baby artichokes can be deep-fried to a golden brown.
Stuffed artichokes are a favorite in Arabic cuisine. Stuff steamed artichokes with rice, ground meat, sausage, chicken, vegetables, cheese or combinations and bake until bubbling
To stuff an artichoke, spread open the leaves and remove some of the center leaves; cut off some of the hard tips of the outer leaves. For an Italian-style stuffing, use seasoned breadcrumbs with anchovies, topped with tomato sauce.
Use baby artichokes in stews or marinated in olive oil, vinegar, and garlic as part of an antipasto.
One culinary note: the fleshy part of the artichoke heart—which cooks call the “fond”—and leaves contain an acid called cynarin. Cynarin stimulates the sweetness receptors on the tongue and makes things that you taste after eating an artichoke seem sweet. So if you decide to drink wine when you eat artichokes, choose a wine with acidity such as a Chenin Blanc. And serve artichokes with neutral tasting foods such as pasta.
Nutrition. Artichokes contain a small amount of potassium and vitamin A and no fat. Medium cooked artichoke will have from 8 to 44 calories.
Artichoke facts and trivia. Artichokes are descended from the wild cardoon. The first artichokes appeared in North Africa or Sicily. The cultivation of artichokes spread from Sicily to Southern Italy more than 2,000 years ago. The ancient Romans enjoyed artichokes and were the first to preserve them in vinegar or brine, a practice that is common today.
Catherine de Medici put artichokes on the culinary map in the fourteenth-century when she left Florence to become the queen of France and took her cooks and artichokes along.
French colonist introduced artichokes to Louisiana and to the United States.
The largest artichoke producing countries are Italy, Spain, and France which account for more than 80 percent of the crop worldwide. In the United States almost the entire commercial artichoke crop is grown along the central coast of California.
The botanical name for artichoke is Cynara scolymus.