The Art of the Artichoke
By Chelsea Fisher
The artichoke may hold the crown for MIV — most intimidating vegetable—with all its prickly, user-unfriendly construction. But really the artichoke is just the edible flower bud of a spectacular giant thistle. Underneath their forbidding exterior, artichokes hold a treasure of nutrients.
According to the American Institute For Cancer Research. non-starchy vegetables like artichokes can help prevent many types of cancer including those of the mouth and throat. One medium-size artichoke provides vitamin C, folate, potassium, manganese, and fiber, among other nutritional pluses. Artichokes also have digestive benefits; in Italy, artichoke extract is used to make a popular ‘amaro’ digestif. So it may be time to add this menacing veg to your cancer fighting diet.
Artichokes come in two basic sizes, large and small. The large ones are great for boiling and steaming. They are usually eaten one leaf at a time until you get to the delicious heart. The smaller ones are trimmed of their chewy, hard ends and used in sautées, risottos and stews.
Look for artichokes with leaves that are plump and smooth, without any drying or withering at the edges. They should be a pleasing milky green and without blemishes. Some varieties, especially the smaller frying artichokes, have dark reddish brown streaks radiating from top of the top of each leaf.
Make sure not to mix up green globe artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes; the former is a flower bud, the other a gnarly tuber. They are not interchangeable in recipes.
While large artichokes don’t need much prepping before cooking, except perhaps removing the tiny center leaves and choke if you are stuffing them, the smaller ones require a lot of trimming before they can be cooked and eaten, but they are worth the trouble once you get the hang of it. Cut about 2/3rds off the top, and then pare the remaining leaves down to get to the tender leaf bases. It’s a bit like sharpening a pencil. Artichokes blacken once you cut them them, so have a bowl of acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon) ready to put them in as you do the trimming.
Luckily, if you’re pressed for time or are tired, trimmed artichokes and artichoke hearts are readily available frozen and canned. These are good options for most recipes. If you’re buying canned, just make sure to get artichokes packed sodium-free in water, not oil. Artichoke hearts pickled in vinegar are only meant to be used as antipasti, not in recipes.
The best and simplest way to enjoy an artichoke is to have one fresh and in season, with a light vinaigrette to dip the leaves and heart in. See our two part guide to turning that formidable flower bud into a delectable dish.