It's hard to believe that this delicacy grows like a weed in Sicily. Artichokes are part of the thistle family and are actually the flower bud of the plant. They bloom into a beautiful flower, and thus are best-stored stem-end in water. In the United States, most of the crop is grown in California. Lucky for artichoke fans, they have two seasons, early spring and late fall.
Artichokes are a clever first course because they are among the few foods, oysters are another, that actually stimulate the appetite. Once you get over the hump of just how to eat these unusual-looking vegetables, there's no going back.
How to Eat Them
Baby artichokes can be eaten whole, choke and all. More mature artichokes usually have thorny tips that need to be trimmed before cooking, and a fully developed chokethe fuzzy layer before the delectable heartthat is inedible.
Eating a full-sized artichoke is an experience. First, you pull the tender flesh from the leaves with your teeth. Then you remove the choke with a spoon to finally reach the indescribably tasty heart.
Artichokes are no slouch in the nutrition department. They're an excellent source of fiber and Vitamin C and a good source of magnesium, folate, copper, potassium and phosphorus.
What to Look For
Pick artichokes that feel heavy for their size and have tightly closed buds. Open leaves indicate that they are too mature. The leaves should be a soft green or purple in color and should squeak when pressed.
Trim the stem end and the first few bottom leaves. Cut the top inch off the head to remove the thorny tips. After each cut, rub the artichoke with lemon to prevent discoloration. Steam above water for 30 to 45 minutes. Check for doneness by piercing the bottom with a knife; it should slide in easily. Serve immediately. Olive oil or lemon wedges are good partners. Parmesan, garlic, vinaigrette and anchovies are other classic companions.
To serve cold, plunge cooked artichokes into ice water to chill thoroughly, drain them upside down, and then serve with vinaigrette.
Artichoke hearts that have been frozen, canned or marinated in jars are a fine alternative when cooking time is tight.
Dip into these delicious artichoke recipes:
Baked Chicken and Artichokes
Lamb and Artichoke Stew with Lentils
Roasted Rockfish with Tomatoes, Artichokes, Lemon and Rosemary
Spinach Fettuccine with Artichokes