Artichokes are one of those funky vegetables that are often considered luxurious, not because they’re particularly difficult to find or grow, but because they’re such a gosh-darn pain to prepare! And even if you can figure out how to cook them, there’s the question of which bits you can actually eat, how to get the meat off the leaves, what you can serve them with – the list of questions is seemingly endless. In reality, the difficulty seems to actually come from the lack of popular knowledge about preparing artichokes and not from any real trickiness to their preparation itself; with a little elbow grease and a lot of lemon, anyone can start preparing gorgeous, fresh artichokes right in their own kitchen. Artichokes are actually large members of the thistle family, and the portion of the plant that is eaten is in fact a flower bud that has yet to bloom. These floral delights have roots going as far back as the ancient Greeks and beyond – the Greeks even had mythology surrounding the creation of the artichoke! Over the years, they eventually made their way to Northern Europe as well as the Americas, and a number of different varieties or artichokes began to crop up around the world – that being said, globe artichokes are still considered “true” artichokes and are one of the best varieties for a quality artichoke experience.
Though artichokes are definitely deserving of their reputation as delicacies, these little beauties should also be known for being neat little health bombs, as they’re just packed to the gills with nutrition! According to the USDA, artichokes contain the highest levels of antioxidants of any known vegetable, and these antioxidants include compounds that have been proven to help with liver health, heart health, and even cancer prevention. Additionally, the have an exceptionally high ratio of fiber – one medium sized artichoke can contain over 6 grams of fiber. That’s nearly a quarter of the suggested daily fiber intake for an adult, and at a very reasonable 60 calories a pop too! Artichokes also contain all manner of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Phosphorus, Potassium, Folate, and Folic Acid, as well as other compounds vital to maintaining healthy organ function.
While artichokes certainly have enough health benefits to merit consideration for superfood-status, their rather prickly reputation tends keep people from attempting to prepare them fresh, and marinated artichoke hearts seem to wind up mixed with mayonnaise and cheese more often than not. So how do we get over our collective fresh-phobia when it comes to artichokes and start reaping the health and flavor benefits? Let’s start with the biggest hurdle first: prepping an artichoke for cooking.
Trimming an Artichoke
As with all things, preparation is key, and with artichokes especially, it can mean the difference between an excellent meal and a big mouthful of fuzz. Getting an artichoke ready to cook is often the most daunting part of the process and is generally the bit where a home cook will find themselves throwing in the towel. In fact, it’s actually very easy, no fancy knife skills required!
First, you’ll need to assemble some gear. This includes a serrated knife, a pairing knife or vegetable peeler, a pair of kitchen shears, and a large bowl of water mixed with lemon juice. The water bowl will become a bath for your artichokes as you finish prepping them – artichokes are notorious for oxidizing when left out, so placing them in a bath of lemon water will help keep them looking green and fresh. You’ll also want a slice or two of lemon handy, as these will be used to rub down the freshly cut artichokes and further prevent oxidization. Once you have the necessary items assembled, it’s time to start prepping!
Minding any spines, use the serrated knife to trim off the top inch of the artichoke as well as the bottom of the stem. The stem itself is actually completely edible, so don’t chop too much, just enough to get rid of the less-than-fresh tip. Pull off and discard the dry, old leaves at the base of the artichoke, this usually requires you to remove about two layers of leaves. Next, using the kitchen shears, trim the tops of the leaves about a quarter of an inch, or however much is necessary to remove the spines. If you’re working with younger artichokes, this step may not be necessary, but it’s a must for more mature artichokes. Finally, using the paring knife or vegetable peeler, carefully peel the woody outer layer of the stem to reveal the tender interior. Rub any freshly cut areas down with your lemon to prevent them oxidizing, and throw the whole thing the lemon water until you’re ready to use it!
If you’re planning on stuffing or roasting your artichokes, you’ll also want to remove the choke, or the purple fuzzy part at the center of the artichoke. The choke is considered inedible, not because it contains toxins or tastes bad but because it’s so hairy, it’s actually a choking hazard. Simply pull the leaves apart slightly and scrape at the choke with a small spoon until you’ve removed it completely, being careful not to scrape away any of the delicious heart.
Once you have your artichokes prepped and ready, there’s really no limit to the kinds of dishes you can make. Here are a few of our personal favorites to get you started, though really the potential variations are endless!
Fill a medium pot with a few inches of water, and drop in a sliced lemon, four or five cloves of garlic, and three sprigs of rosemary. When the water boils, place your trimmed artichokes top down in the steamer basket and place them in the pot; let the artichokes steam for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until they are cooked through. An easy way to test for doneness is to pull off a leaf – if the leaf comes off without any resistance, you know the artichoke is ready to eat! Steamed artichokes are great with a little melted butter to dunk in or even aioli, but steaming artichokes can also be the first step in creating something even more fabulous.
A great way to jazz up a steamed artichoke with minimal effort is by throwing them on the grill! While your artichokes are steaming, start heating a grill or grill pan; artichokes are notorious for oxidizing even after they’ve been cooked, so cutting out any sort of downtime will help you keep them looking pristine. Slice the freshly steamed artichokes in half lengthwise and remove the choke, then toss the artichokes with salt, pepper, and olive oil until the artichokes are evenly coated. Place the artichokes on the very hot grill or grill pan cut side down, and grill until evenly charred on both sides, about one to two minutes. Grilled artichokes are great on their own, or serve them as part of a salad or as a side dish with grilled meats.
Stuffed artichokes are another great way to utilize steamed artichokes – this classic, Italian version makes a great side dish or even a vegetarian entrée. While your artichokes steam, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Sautee six cloves of minced garlic and one minced shallot with some butter until the shallots are soft and translucent and the garlic is fragrant. While these cook, combine two cups of bread crumbs, one teaspoon of dried rosemary, one teaspoon of dried parsley, two cups of grated parmesan cheese, and two tablespoons of melted butter. Add the shallots and garlic, and mix until the stuffing is well combined. Take the steamed artichokes and spread the leaves apart slightly so you can scrape out the choke, then begin spooning the stuffing mixture into the space between the leaves. You’ll need to trim the stem off completely to bake the artichokes upright, but don’t throw them away! Toss the stems in olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan and bake them alongside your stuffed artichokes for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the stuffing is crisp and the cheese has melted.
Roasted artichokes are one of the few preparations where you start with the artichokes completely fresh. Start by preparing the seasoning: roughly chop about 6 cloves of garlic and about 2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary, then cut a lemon into eighths. Trim up your artichokes as you would normally, removing the stems, then spread the leaves slightly and scrape out the choke. Into this space, place about a half teaspoon of garlic, a sprinkling of rosemary, and one of the lemon pieces; drizzle the artichoke with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees uncovered for about fifteen minutes, then cover the artichokes with aluminum foil and allow them to continue baking for about 20 minutes or until a leaf pulls out easily.
So you see, underneath those thorny outer leaves, globe artichokes are actually delightfully easy to work with! They’re delicious, versatile, and healthy to boot, and right now at Oliver’s, you can get extra large, heirloom globe artichokes for the truly unbeatable price of $1.69 each. Stop in and get some today!