Published by: Gourmet Sleuth
Last Updated: 10/15/2018
It appears that the artichoke was first developed in Sicily, Italy. There is mention of the plant in Greek and Roman literature as far back as 77AD. Artichokes were cultivated by the North African Moors near Granada Spain about 800AD. The choke made to England in about 1548 but was not well received. The Spanish settlers brought artichokes to California in the 1600's. They did not become widely grown or used in California until the 1920's. "In 1922 Andrew Molera, a landowner in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County, California, just south of San Francisco, decided to lease land previously dedicated to the growing of sugar beets to farmers willing to try the “new” vegetable. His reasons were economic—already artichokes were fetching high prices and farmers could pay Molera triple what the sugar company did for the same land. By 1929 artichokes were the third largest cash crop in the Valley" (Food Museum).
Choose globes that are dark green, heavy, and have "tight" leaves. Don't select globes that are dry looking or appear to be turning brown. If the leaves appear too "open" then the choke is past its prime. You can still eat them, but the leaves may be tough. (Don't throw these away you can always make artichoke soup). Artichokes are available throughout the year with peak season being from March to May with a smaller crop produced in October.
Artichoke eating is a hands-on affair and another case in life where the "journey is as important as the destination"...
Pull each leaf off the choke and hold the pointed end between your fingers and drag the leaf between your teeth. Most of the edible portion is on inside bottom 1/3 of the choke leaf. When you serve artichokes it's nice to put a bowl on the table for the discarded leaves unless your serving plate is large enough to stack the leaves on the side.
Artichokes are commonly served with a dip such as lemon-butter, or mayonnaise.
Once you've eaten all the leaves you'll see the heart or flower of the choke. By the way, the leaves closest to the heart of the choke are very tender and depending on the size and age of the choke you can frequently eat the whole cluster of leaves. Once you see a bed of fuzzy or hair like strands you've hit the heart. Scoop out the fuzz with a spoon and discard. The rest of the base of the choke is edible, referred to as the heart. This is the favorite part of the artichoke for some people.
Baby artichokes are fully mature artichokes that grow closer to the ground, sheltered by the larger leaves on the plant. They are easy to cook and prepare because the inner fuzzy portion of the choke does not develop.
The chokes should be frozen cooked and not raw. Don't try to freeze raw artichokes because they will turn brown and be unappealing in taste and color. The following methods are suggested by the writers at Artichokes.org:
Method 1 - Blanching
Remove the stem and cut off the top 1 inch or so. Hollow out the center by smashing the thorny end against a counter top and scoop out the flower portions with a sturdy sharp spoon. Pour on lemon juice to help prevent browning. Drill a small hole in the base to help heat penetration.
Bring water and about a tablespoon of lemon juice to a boil. The lemon juice will help prevent excessive discoloration. Hold the water temperature to just under a boil for 20 minutes. Remove and place the artichokes in cool water to lower temperature. Drain well then place in plastic freezer bags to reduce freezer burn.
To thaw and cook
Thaw the artichokes at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Steam for about 25 minutes until leaves are tender.
Method 2 - Steam and Freeze
To thaw and cook
Wrap each choke in aluminum foil, sealed tightly. Place on rack above boiling water. Cover and steam until hot and cooked through
If you are an artichoke lover and you plan to visit Rome, you must plan a lunch or dinner at Restaurante Piperno. A Sicilian colleague of mine is well known at this little (famous) spot. I prefer eating at places that have been recommended and this was a winner. The specialty of the house are little fried baby artichokes. This is a quote from their menu:
Thrown into boiling oil, smooth as a billiard ball," and "comes out like a chrysanthemum with petals open, distilling its pleasant perfume."
The artichokes are not greasy, not over-coated, they are crisp and delicious and I would go back to Rome just to have these again.