Artichokes 101

The very short artichoke season has arrived. We show how to prepare and serve this delicacy.

06 Nov 2009

Many people simply have no idea how to cook artichokes, others avoid eating them because of the strange appearance. But underneath the hard prickles of these funny-looking flowers lies a heart full of nutritional value and the secret that makes the artichoke a sought-after culinary delicacy.

The globe or French artichoke, originating from the Mediterranean, has been around forever and the ancient Egyptians and Romans prized them for their medicinal properties (see below). Today, in some parts of the world, artichokes are so highly praised people devote entire festivals to it. Like in Castroville, California, which is fondly called the "green globe" capital of the United States. Since 1922 an annual artichoke festival has been held there and guess who was the artichoke queen of 1949, a young aspiring actress named Marilyn Monroe.

Artichokes are best in summer; choose one that is firm and heavy with stiff tightly packed leaves. Because the artichoke is a flower bud, open leaves indicate that it is overripe, and will therefore be hard and have too large a choke. If you can't find them fresh, look for canned, frozen or marinated artichoke hearts that are readily available in stores. You may also be offered a choice between mature globe artichokes or younger vegetables (picked while the leaves and choke are still soft and completely edible).

When cooking artichokes, you should first remove the hard, inedible bits, the fibrous choke in the middle as well as the spines at the ends of the leaves.

Break the stalk off the artichoke so that any fibres are pulled out and then trim the base with a knife. The pointed top of the artichoke should be cut off parallel to the base. While preparing artichokes, you can cover the cut surface with lemon juice to prevent it from turning brown.

Cover the artichokes with cold water, add a drop of oil and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Drain the artichokes upside-down to release any water trapped between the leaves. Let the artichokes cool slightly. Remove the central cone of leaves with a quick twist and put aside. The fibrous choke can then be scooped out. Set the central cone of leaves upside down in the artichoke where the central choke was scooped out. You can fill the cup in the centre of the leaves with vinaigrette or another sauce for serving. Eat your artichoke leaf by leaf; the leaves being detached with fingers dipping the base in a sauce. At formal meals only the hearts are served, garnished or stuffed. Artichokes have a mild, slightly nutty taste and are usually served with a rich sauce. Artichokes can also be steamed, baked, stuffed, fried or cooked in the microwave oven, let our recipes below guide you.

Health info
Artichokes, especially those with a slightly bitter taste, are reputed to prevent the build-up of fats in artery walls, thus protecting against heart disease and high cholesterol. Irritable bowl syndrome is another complaint that can apparently be eased by eating globe artichokes, as are bloating, flatulence, abdominal cramps and constipation. Globe artichokes are also a great addition to a diabetic diet and for those trying to lose weight. They're low in kilojoules and carbohydrates and high in fibre; rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin A, C, iron and potassium, and are a good source of protein.

And in case you wondered, the word artichoke is shared by three unrelated plants; the globe artichoke (described here) as well as the Jerusalem artichoke and the Chinese (or Japanese) artichoke. 

5 things to do with artichokes

Artichokes in Parmesan batter with olive oil and capers

Pizza with shrimps and artichokes

Rusks with artichoke and feta

Vegetable paella

Smoked beef and artichoke quiche


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