The artichoke dates back eons and is said to have been prized by the ancient Romans as food of the nobility. I wonder if “kitchen” royalty is included in the nobility category as this member of the thistle family is one of my most prized vegetables. In the United States, almost the entire commercial crop is cultivated in California’s midcoastal region in Castroville, known as “The Artichoke Capital of the World”. Having lived in Northern California for 30 years I became accustomed to having the fresh variety readily available. Imagine my disappointment when I moved to the midwest and found they were extremely scarce and very expensive. This could be changing, however, as last spring I saw artichoke plants at the local nursery and a vendor was selling artichokes at the farmers market in the mid-summer. For us who eat the more common west coast variety, however, the globe artichoke is a spring vegetable with peak season March-May.
These thistles may seem intimidating and there are many recipes available, but my favorite preparation is really quite easy. I like mine steamed and eaten plain or with a simple dip such as, garlic butter, lemon butter, aioli or a vinaigrette. I will warn you there is a lot of waste as they must be trimmed aggressively so just get over it and think of it as compost.
From left to right you see the whole, the partially trimmed, trimmed ready for steaming.
Here’s how it goes:
- Prepare a large bowl with water and squeeze the juice of one lemon into it along with the lemon halves. This is nesessary as the artichoke will turn brown (oxidize) quickly if not placed immediately in acidulated water.
- Trim the bottom of the stem and peel (I use a vegetable peeler) off the tough, dark green skin from the stem.
- Snap off the tough outer leaves until the more tender lighter green leaves are exposed. This can be several layers depending on the size of the artichoke. I like to use the peeler to trim the base around the stem where the leaves have been removed until it is smooth but this is not absolutely necessary.
- Using a sharp knife, cut off about 1/2-inch of the top. Use scissors to trim off the remainder of the prickly ends of the petals.
- Steam “stem up” on a steaming rack over 2 inches of water, covered for about 30 minutes or until the base can be pierced with a knife tip. I like to drizzle them with a little extra-virgin olive oil prior to steaming for added flavor.
- Enjoy one petal at a time, pulling the base of the petal through slightly clenched teeth to strip off the petal “meat” and discard the rest. You can dip them individually in your dip of choice or eat them plain. When you get to the “heart” (round area at the base), scoop out the fuzzy top layer (the choke) and enjoy the entire “heart”. It is like the prize after all the work of eating the petals.
Artichokes can be served warm, room temperature or cold. They can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Healthwise, they contain potassium, vitamin A and are absolutely fat free (be careful with the dip if low fat is your thing). I admit I bought four the other day, cooked them all together and over the course of two days, ate them all myself, guilt free for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
They are a beloved and much anticipated vegetable in my family. I hope they make their way to your table soon. I would love to hear your comments. Let me know what you think!