You pass them in the vegetable aisle of the supermarket and wonder what they are? Your boss takes you out to lunch and the vegetable du jour looks like a green pinecone. You wonder “What is this? How do you eat it?”
Aaah, the artichoke.
The artichoke has been eaten for centuries. The ancient Romans considered it a delicacy. Historic records show that it was cultivated in Italy in the 1550s. It came to these shores via the French and Spanish settlers of North America. What we know as an artichoke is actually the unopened flower bud of this plant that is part of the thistle family. If left to bloom, the flower of this plant measures around 6 inches in diameter.
The artichoke plant itself is six feet in diameter and can grow up to four feet high. Most of what we see in the market are globe artichokes. For all practical purposes, all the globe artichokes sold in this country come from California.
When choosing an artichoke, look for fleshy globular artichokes that are heavy in comparison to their size, although size is not important in terms of quality. Check the scales of the artichoke (the leaf-like parts which make up the bud) to make sure that they are green and tight. Do not by artichokes with blemished leaves or open scales.
Artichokes are usually cooked whole steamed or boiled. Before cooking, trim off the stem so that the bottom is even with the artichoke. Stand the artichokes erect in a pot and add three inches of water. Cover the pot and cook until you can easily remove a leaf. Drain the artichokes upside down. Cooking time depends on the size of the artichoke and can range from 35-45 minutes.
To eat the artichoke, slip each petal of the plant off a leaf at a time. Scrape the bottom of the leaf off and eat this portion only. Discard the remains of the leaf. When you reach the middle of the globe, remove the “choke” (the tough, stringy piece).
You will be left with what some call the best part of the “heart” of the artichoke. If you don’t plan to cook your artichokes right away, wash them, and place them inside the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Store them in the high humidity drawer of your refrigerator. They will keep for up to two weeks under these conditions.
Artichokes aren’t just tasty; they are also good for you and low in calories. Artichokes are a good source of potassium. Artichokes are thought to improve blood circulation, digestion, and liver function.Artichokes