In certain respects, the artichoke might
be regarded as the vegetable equivalent of lobster. It's somewhat
labour intensive eating, but well worth the effort. The artichoke
can be served whole or trimmed down to the heart, which, like
the lobster's tail, is often considered the tastiest part.
Because of its seemingly intricate structure,
many people have never tried this vegetable, an unfortunate
omission, since the artichoke is not only delicious, but is
also a rich source of vitamin C, folate, dietary fibre, and
a multitude of minerals.
A single artichoke is actually an unopened
flower bud from a thistlelike plant with the Latin name of Cynara
scolymus. Each green cone-shaped bud consists of several parts:
overlapping outer leaves that are tough and inedible at the
tip, but fleshy and tender at the base; an inedible choke, or
thistle, which is enclosed within a light-colored cone of immature
leaves; and a round, firm-fleshed base. This meaty base, informally
called the "heart," but technically called the bottom—is
the part that you work your way toward when eating a large artichoke.
Commercially available artichoke "hearts" come from
tiny whole artichokes, which have almost no chokes.
Artichokes vary greatly in size. Differences are not related
to quality or maturity, but are determined by the part of the
stalk the buds grow on--large ones on the center stalk, smaller
ones on side branches, and "baby" artichokes (weighing
about 55g) at the base. The largest artichokes, entree-sized
specimens weighing a half a kilo or more are best when stuffed
with a savoury filling and served hot or cold; the medium-size
ones are recommended for eating with sauces as an appetiser;
and the babies, which are completely edible when properly trimmed
are often marinated and served in salads and in hot or cold
The shape of this vegetable also varies.
While spherical and oval-shaped artichokes are preferred for
market, a more cylindrical shape is quite common. Even conical
shaped artichokes have been produced.
Whatever its size or shape, an artichoke
should be compact and heavy for its size, with leaves, or scales,
that are fleshy, thick, firm, and tightly closed; if they look
dry and woody, or have begun to spread apart, the artichoke
is past its prime. Check the stem end for tiny holes, these
are signs of worm damage, which will probably be even more extensive
inside the artichoke.
Spring artichokes should be a soft green;
those picked in the autumnl and winter tend to be olive green,
and may have bronze-tipped leaves or a slightly blistered, whitish
outer surface. This "winter-kissed" effect, as it
is called by the growers, is the result of exposure to a light
frost in the fields; it does not affect the taste or tenderness
of the artichoke. Don't, however, confuse blackened or wilted
leaves, or dark bruised spots, with the normal bronzing of frost-touched
Many supermarkets sell artichokes either
packaged in cans and jars or frozen. These have the advantage
of being ready to eat, as all the inedible parts have already
been removed. Canned artichoke hearts usually come packed in
brine; rinse and drain them before serving to reduce their high
sodium content. Marinated artichoke hearts, sold in jars, are
preserved in a seasoned oil or oil-and-vinegar mixture, which
will add to their calorie count. However, you can remove some
of the fat by pouring off the oil and letting the artichokes
drain in a colander.
Frozen artichoke hearts have no added ingredients;
follow package directions when cooking them.
Although artichokes appear hardy, they are quite perishable;
store them in the refrigerator, in a plastic bag, for no more
than four or five days. To keep them moist, sprinkle a few drops
of water into the bag and then close the top, but do not rinse
or wash the vegetables (or cut or trim them) before storing.
Whole cooked artichokes should be wrapped
in plastic wrap or placed in plastic bags; they will keep in
the refrigerator for four to five days.
To prepare whole artichokes: Cut off the top inch of the bud,
which consists of inedible leaf tips, with a large, sharp knife.
Don't cut an artichoke with a carbon-steel knife; it will turn
the cut parts black. (If you want, clip off the sharp tips of
the remaining outer leaves with scissors.) If you're not cooking
them right away, rub the cut parts with lemon juice to keep
them from darkening. Pull off any short, coarse leaves from
the bottom and cut off the stem flush with the base so the artichoke
can stand upright while it cooks.
To prepare baby artichokes
Cut off the bottoms of the stems and the top parts of the leaves.
Peel the remaining stem. Remove the outer leaves by bending
them back until they snap (the meaty portion will remain attached);
stop when you reach the inner, pale green leaves. Pare the outer
layers from the artichoke bottoms. Halve each vegetable lengthwise,
scoop out the thin center petals, then slice each half lengthwise.
To make artichoke "cups"
Some recipes call for the choke to be removed to make a "cup"
for stuffing. It's easier to do this after the whole artichoke
has been cooked. Prepare the vegetable as for serving whole.
Boil, steam, or microwave, then let stand until cool enough
to handle. Spread the outer leaves apart, pull out the petals
covering the choke, and use a teaspoon to scrape out the choke.
The artichoke can be stuffed and then either served as is or
To prepare artichoke "hearts"
This, too, is more easily done after the artichoke is cooked.
Prepare and cook a whole artichoke. When cool enough to handle,
remove all the leaves from the cooked artichoke (save them to
eat separately if you want). Discard the thin petals covering
the choke, then scrape off the choke with a paring knife. Trim
around the bottom with a knife to make it smooth and more visually
Make "cups" from cooked artichokes as described above,
then fill the cavity and the spaces between the leaves with
stuffing. Stand the filled artichokes in a baking dish; add
some vegetable broth, chicken stock, or water to the dish to
keep the vegetables from drying out, cover with foil, and bake
in a 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4 oven until the filling
is heated through. Cooking time: 20 to 30 minutes.
Place trimmed artichokes, stem end down, in a nonreactive pot
of boiling water; the addition of 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
or vinegar will help keep the artichokes from darkening and
also add flavour. Cover the pan and return the water to a boil;
when done, an inner leaf can be pulled out easily. Invert the
artichokes in a colander so that they drain thoroughly before
serving. Cooking time: 20 to 40 minutes.
Trim the artichokes; rinse but do not dry, then place in a microweavable
container and cover. Cook on high power, rotating halfway through
the cooking time. Remove from the microwave and let stand for
5 minutes. Cooking time: for one artichoke, 4 to 7 minutes;
add 3 minutes for each additional artichoke.
Sauté and stir-fry
Sliced artichoke bottoms or hearts can be sauteed or stir-fried
in a small amount of oil or stock, alone or with vegetables
such as mushrooms or peas. Cooking time: 5 minutes.
Steam trimmed artichokes in a vegetable steamer, or stand several
artichokes in a nonreactive pan just large enough to hold them
upright. Add 1" of boiling water and 2 tablespoons of lemon
juice (or a lemon wedge). Cover and simmer until tender. Cooking
time: 25 to 40 minutes.