Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean but are now being grown successfully in California as well. They come into season right about now -- and stay in season through May. Like most in-season produce, they are much more affordable (and not to mention, delicious!) when purchased while they are at their seasonal peak, so now is the time to load up on this super healthy vegetable.
The more research that is done on artichokes, the better and better their resume looks. A recent study done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture ranked artichokes as the number one vegetable in terms of antioxidants. They also contain a high amount of fiber, which is essential to maintaining health and aids in weight loss. One large artichoke contains six grams of dietary fiber -- which is more fiber than a cup of prunes!
If you've never cooked with fresh artichokes before, don't be intimidated by their appearance. Although it is not obvious how to cook and eat an artichoke from its appearance, it is not too hard once you get the hang of it. Once you have prepped and trimmed your artichoke, you can do a number of delicious things with it (I share my recipe for garlic and caper stuffed artichokes below). But let's not get too ahead of ourselves. First let's look at how to buy and store these lovely little plants.
As silly as it sounds, give your artichokes a little squeeze when you're choosing which ones to purchase. A really fresh artichoke will make a squeaky sound so, unlike most other things in life, the squeakier the better. Choose artichokes with compact leaves. The stem should be firm, not wrinkly or dried out. Look for artichokes that feel heavy for their size. Brown spots can indicate age but can also signify frost damage, which won't negatively affect the taste. If they pass all of the other freshness tests, don't pass them up if they're not perfectly green.
To store artichokes, sprinkle them lightly with a little water and keep them in an airtight plastic bag in the refrigerator. Stored in this way, a fresh artichoke should last for up to a week.
Whole, prepped artichokes are most commonly steamed. It is a simple and healthy way to enjoy artichokes and you can have fun with dips you serve them with. Butter and mayonnaise are traditional accompaniments, but feel free to get creative (I like chipotle flavored mayo and yogurt sauces as well). Whatever your dip of choice, here is how you'll use it:
This is a fun way to vary up a simple steamed artichoke recipe. The technique is exactly the same and it takes nominally more time, but adds an extra layer of flavor.
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