A is for Artichoke

January 27th, 2012 by Erin Gennow

Artichokes ©Erin Gennow

A is for Artichoke

Classification – Genus: Cynara, Species: C. cardunculus

Type of Vegetable – Thistle flower

Varieties – Green Globe (which is the most popular in the US), Imperial Star, Baby Anzio, Big Heart, Siena, Mercury, Omaha, Fiesole, Chianti, King

Italy, Spain, and France have many other varietals.

History – The artichoke has its roots in the Mediterranean region, mainly wild in North Africa and cultivation probably started in the Roman Period in Egypt.  Artichokes were known as far back as the Grecian and Roman Time Periods.  History points to artichoke cultivation in the Sicilian region during the time of ancient Greeks.  Romans most likely obtained the artichoke from Greeks.  By the 9th Century Globe artichokes were used in Naples and from there passed throughout Italy in 15th century.  Even today artichokes are used through many parts of Italy in various dishes.  I especially noticed this in Rome when we traveled this past fall, however it was the low season for artichokes, so they weren’t as abundantly showcased.

Growing – Artichokes can be grown as perennials for five to ten years, by cutting the stems to the ground at the end of harvest.  Artichokes can also be grown as annuals from seeds.  Artichoke plants grow extremely large and require a lot of labor for harvesting.  They do well in temperate climates like California’s central coast and seasons include March through May and the month of October.  Artichokes are harvested entirely by hand.  Field workers harvest the same fields throughout the season as chokes grow on the main stem at different rates.

Nutrition – Artichokes provide vitamin C, folate, potassium, magnesium, and fiber.  Artichokes are high in anti-oxidants and low in calories.

Uses/Eating/Flavor – The heart of the artichoke is the meaty, sweet edible bud of the flower.  Artichokes have a sweet, slightly nutty flavor, and they impart a sweetness to other foods you eat right after you eat an artichoke. You can boil, steam, pressure cook, microwave, and trim and sauté artichokes.  They are also great trimmed and baked as a gratin.  When choosing your artichokes choose those with tight, squeaky leaves and they should feel heavy for their size.  Avoid artichokes that appear dried out with browning and cracking leaves.

Did you know it is the flower bud that is edible?  If an artichoke is left to flower a decorative large, purple thistle grows.  These beautiful, large flowers make wonderful eye-catching displays.  Many farmers’ markets in my area sell these artichoke flowers for decorative purposes.

Cleaning/Storing – Refrigerate artichokes for up to a week.  I usually just put them in my crisper drawer, not even in a bag.   Wash the artichokes just before preparing for cooking.  If steaming them whole, just trim the tops a bit and cut off any sharp points on the leaves with kitchen shears.

If you would like to sauté the hearts to use as a side dish, in a pasta sauce, or on a salad the prepping is a bit more time consuming, but well worth the effort.

Cut the top off, usually at least the top third, and trim off all the leaves with a pairing knife.  Scoop out the fuzzy, purple flower in the center (the choke).  You can leave some of the stem, but trim away the fibrous outer layer.  First cut off at least a quarter inch to get a clean cut.  Looking at the bottom of the stem, you can tell what is meaty and what is fibrous by the color and texture.  You should now have the meaty, sweet heart of the artichoke.  If you are preparing many artichokes, place the fully trimmed artichokes into a bowl of cold lemon water to help prevent them from browning too quickly.  Now you can sauté them in a skillet or bake them in the oven.

Steamed Artichokes Recipe 

Aioli (great for dipping the artichoke leaves and scraping the meat out with your teeth)

A year ago on The Daily Morsel





















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