Food for Thought: All About Artichokes

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Food for Thought:

All About Artichokes

       At first glance, artichokes might seem intimidating; especially if you’ve never worked with them before. Actually, they are super easy to handle and easier to prepare than you might think. 

       Artichokes are a round green vegetables made up of lots of leaves tightly packed together. This rather odd-looking vegetable is really an immature flower bud of a thistle plant. 

       The most popular type of artichoke is called a Globe artichoke, they’re big, round, and are sometimes shaped like a tulip.  They’re a rather beautiful vegetable especially once you cut into them as is called for in our Grilled Barista Artichoke recipe. These make a beautiful and delicious part of any meal!

       Some people say the flavor of an artichoke falls somewhere between asparagus and celery but to me an artichoke tastes…well…like an artichoke! As you can imagine, it has a really fresh, clean taste.

       While most people have had artichoke hearts if they’ve ever had artichokes at all, one cool fact is that you can eat almost the entire artichoke. The stem is edible, the heart is edible (which you will see once you cut into it) and the base of the leaves is edible as well. 

       Just above the heart is a weird fuzzy-looking section called the choke. This is easily scooped out with a spoon and discarded because if you have ever accidentally eaten any of the chokes, you will know how it gained its name. It will literally get stuck in your throat and choke you, so be sure not to eat it. It is not edible!

       Artichokes have great health benefits. They’re high in fiber, rich in antioxidants, and offer plenty of Vitamin C.  Plus, like most vegetables, they are high in nutrients and low in calories.

       You can often find artichokes at the grocery year all year round but Spring and Fall are when they are in season. This is when they will have the best flavor, the highest nutrient density, and hopefully the best cost.

       When buying artichokes, you want to look for artichokes that are nice and green and a little bit heavy for their size. You want them to feel plump, not hollow. This way you know they are fresh and not dried out. Look for leaves to be nice and tight on top.  A really fresh artichoke will actually squeak when you squeeze it! As for the stem, the fresher the cut the better, you don’t want the stems to be dry and shriveled up. Sometimes artichokes have some brown streaks on the leaves. This is caused by frost and shouldn’t hurt the quality of the vegetable; in fact, some would say this makes the artichoke sweeter.

       You can store your artichokes right in the produce bag. Make sure all the air is pushed out of the bag, wrap them up, and put them in the veggie drawer. They will last a few days this way, but I usually try to buy them close to the date that I plan to use them, so I don’t have to store them for too long.

How To Eat An Artichoke

  • Artichokes may be served hot or cold.
  • Pull off outer leaves, one at a time.
  • Dip the base of the petal into sauce if desired and pull through teeth to remove the soft, pulpy portion of the leaf. Discard what remains.
  • The heart and stem of the artichoke are entirely edible (and SO delicious!).

       Like apples and many other fruits and vegetables, artichokes have an enzyme in them that causes them to oxidize quickly, which basically means that once you cut into them and the oxygen hits the surface, they will begin to turn brown. To avoid this, be sure to use a stainless steel knife and pot. Keep a lemon on hand! Once you cut into the artichoke rub with the lemon to help slow down the oxidation as well.

       I hope you are now feeling eager to give whole artichokes a try! If, however, this seems like more than you care to dive into, remember you can also buy artichoke hearts canned, jarred, and frozen. They are all delicious and are always great in salads, egg dishes, soups, grains, and even pastas!  Try our Artichoke Chicken Bacon Bites, our Balsamic Vegan Spinach & Artichoke Dip, or our Calabrian Pepper Tuscan Cream Cheese Spread which is fabulous on French bread or crackers. (I love to use leftovers on my morning bagel!)

       If you’re an artichoke lover like I am, you are definitely going to want to try out these recipes. They’re so easy, yet so delicious; you’ll be hooked! Happy experimenting from all of us at Bellisari’s.

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