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
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.
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 antipastos.
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.
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.
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 artichokes.
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 baked.
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 appealing.
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.
Microwave: 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: 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.