Artichokes

thornless artichokes
photo credit: gourmetsleuth

About

Artichoke is the common name for a plant of the composite flower family. The artichoke grows wild in the south of Europe and is cultivated in the United States, primarily in California. The leaves proceed from the base of the stem and are long and somewhat spiny. The stem is up to 1 m (3 ft) high, branched, with large heads of violet-colored (sometimes white), thistle-like flowers at the summits of the branches. The thickened receptacle (heart) and fleshy bases of the scales (leaves) of the immature flower are the portions eaten. *Note: This is not the same as a Jerusalem artichoke. Also, know as "sun chokes" the Jerusalem choke is a tuber eaten raw or cooked. When eaten raw it is crispy and similar in texture to a water chestnut. Scientific classification The artichoke belongs to the family Asteraceae (formerly Compositae). It is classified as Cynara scolymus."Artichoke," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved

History

artichoke plant in full blookIt 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).

How To Select

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.

How To Clean and Prepare Artichokes 

  1. Tap the choke upside down in the sink. This will remove anything that may have made this artichoke a home. With most commercial grown chokes this is not usually an issue. But,  if you or a friend grow artichokes you'll find earwigs love to live in the leaves (if grown organically).
  2. Rinse the choke under running water.
  3. Some of this is preference. I do not cut away the entire stem (because it tastes good). I leave about 1 1/2" or so, trim then end and peel the top layer off the stem. You may remove the entire stem, at the base, if you prefer.( You may want to do this for "presentation" purposes.) Remove the really small leaves along the bottom of the choke. Some people whack off the top inch or so of the choke to remove the thistles and to even out the top prior to stuffing the choke. You may also use scissors or a sharp knife to trim away the sharp tips. Prepared artichokes should be placed in a bowl of water with the juice of one or two lemons added until you are ready to cook them.

How To Eat an Artichoke

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.

The Heart

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

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.

Freezing Artichokes

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

  1. Trim tops from artichokes. Rub cut surfaces with lemon.
  2. Cook artichoke "al dente" in water with about 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
  3. Drain upside down thoroughly. Place upside down on tray and freeze quickly in coldest part of the freezer. When frozen, place in plastic bags for storage.

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

Restarurant Piperno

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.

Fun Fact about Artichokes

Nutrition Information For Artichokes

Serving Size
1 artichoke, medium
 
Calories
60
Calories from Fat
0
 
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 120mg
10%
Potassium
474g
10%
Total Carbohydrate 13g
0%
Dietary Fiber 7g
30%
Sugars 1g
Protein 4g
10%
 
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

How To Store Fresh Artichokes

Fresh artichokes should be put in a plastic bag, unwashed, and refrigerated. It is best to use them within 4 days of purchase. If you grow your own then cut them right before you cook them.

Grilled Artichokes

Grilled artichokes make a wonderful side dish or appetizer.  You can watch this video to see how to grill your own artichokes.  Restaurants used grilled artichokes for use as appetizers or with salads.  You can purchase these high quality grilled artichokes here: Fondo di Toscana Grilled Long Stem Artichokes.

More About Piperno

Here is an excerpt from Travel and Leisure Magazine about this restaurant.

Piperno is near the enormous Cenci Palace, where an infamous act of parricide took place in the 16th century, supposedly casting a permanent gloom over the little square on which the restaurant is located. The interior, however, is anything but gloomy, with bottle-green fabric and interesting frescoes lining the walls of the dining rooms where white-jacketed, black-tied waiters do their very professional thing: filleting fish, checking peaches for ripeness when a customer orders one for dessert, inspecting the porcini and taking them to the kitchen to be prepared.

We were encouraged to start with the house specialties, not only the carciofi alla giudia but strips of tender young artichoke in the fritto scelto all'Italiana with variety meats. Even better was the fritto misto vegetariano, which consisted of the artichokes plus supplì; (a rice croquette with melted cheese inside), some chunks of mozzarella, and best of all, the stuffed squash blossoms. You wouldn't believe fried food could be so ungreasy, but you can pick it up in your fingers without a trace of fat. But then the art of frying is said to be a hallmark of Roman Jewish cooking. Run since 1963 by the non-Jewish Mazzarella family, Piperno is generally considered the best but most expensive of Rome's Jewish restaurants. It's worth the money.

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.