Hats off to whoever can be credited with discovering the deliciousness that lies within this prickly plant. This flowering thistle is kind of scary and intimidating in its raw state, but with just a little prepping and TLC, a uniquely delicious flesh is revealed.
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.
How to choose and store artichokes
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.
How to prep artichokes
- Rinse the artichoke under cool running water, taking care not to tug on the leaves too much. Give it a good shake and dry the artichoke with a clean kitchen towel.
- Using a sharp knife, cut 1 to 1-1/2 inches off the tip of the artichoke.
- If the artichoke has little thorns on the tips of the leaves, cut them off using sharp kitchen scissors. This is done mainly for appearance purposes, as the thorns soften during the cooking process.
- Cut off the stem flush with the base of the artichoke. You can either discard the stem, or peel off the tough outer layers using a vegetable peeler and steam them along with the rest of the artichoke.
How to steam an artichoke
- Bring a couple of inches of water to a boil in a large pot and insert a steaming basket. The water should reach just below the base of the basket.
- Place the artichokes, base side down, in the steaming basket. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the artichoke. The artichoke is done when one of the outer leaves can be pulled off easily.
How to eat an artichoke
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:
- Pull off one of the outer petals. Dip the white fleshy end in your dip of choice. Holding the other end, bite down on the leaf and pull it through your teeth to remove the delicious flesh. Discard the rest of the leaf.
- Continue with all of the leaves. As you near the core of the artichoke, the leaves will become more and more tender and you will be able to just bite off the fleshy, soft ends.
- Once you reach the heart of the artichoke, use a knife or spoon to scoop out the inedible fuzzy part covering the heart of artichoke. The remaining part is the artichoke heart, and what many consider the best part. Cut the heart into pieces and dip into the sauce.
Artichokes stuffed with garlic and capers recipe
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.
- 4 large globe artichokes
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For herbed mayonnaise:
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon shallot, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh minced herbs (parsley and/or dill)
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- Trim and prep the artichoke using the directions above.
- Gently pull apart the layers of the leaves and stuff with the capers and garlic. Drizzle with olive oil.
- Place a steaming rack in a large pot, add enough water to come just to the bottom of the rack, and bring water to a boil. Place the artichokes on the steaming rack, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the base is tender when pierced with a sharp knife and the leaves pull off easily (about 25 to 45 minutes). Transfer to a plate.
- To make the herbed mayonnaise, combine the mayonnaise with the shallots, herbs and lemon zest. Serve the artichokes alongside the mayonnaise dipping sauce.