We eat the artichoke buds (the blossom of a flower, not a vegetable), harvested when the plant is young. You can trim a whole artichoke bud and eat it, with raw artichoke hearts being quite astringent. The hearts go soft when cooked and have a rich, nutty, savoury-sweet flavour. The heart runs into the stem of the plant, and when trimmed to its centre, can be delicious too.
The furry inner choke is not very good to eat, but harmless.
How to prepare artichokes for cooking
The inner, thin, yellowish petals are the edible ones, with the thicker, outer green petals too tough. The choke (fuzzy bit in the middle) contains the heart. The choke is not edible, but the heart is. The stem comes into the heart, with the heart and stem being the most delicious.
Using a knife, cut off the top quarter or third of a mature artichoke to get rid of the spines. Clip the tips off the other spines with scissors. You can dish up a whole artichoke and eat the flesh at the base of the leaves, then the heart, or you can trim the artichoke to only leave the heart, but even young artichokes must be trimmed of outer leaves, tips, and other tough surfaces that are not good to eat.
Snap leaves off by pulling them back towards the stem. Some of the strings should go with it. When trimming the upper and outer portions, leave part of the stem or leave it, depending what your recipe calls for. Once artichoke flesh is exposed to air, it will quickly start to grey, so rub with lemon juice or vinegar (an acid), but use olive oil if you want to avoid an acidic taste later.
Artichokes react to reactive metals so avoid aluminium pots and high-carbon-steel knives (old fashioned sorts). If your water is alkaline, add some acid. If you are eating a whole artichoke with the choke removed, pre- or post-cooking,with a melon-baller or sharp teaspoon load the centre up with warm sauce or a vinaigrette.
- Steamed or boiled artichoke leaves with olive oil and salt
- Artichoke hearts stuffed with other ingredients, such as mushrooms or tuna.
- Jewish-Italian dish alla guidia – artichoke leaves trimmed and pressed to flatten and open them, fried in olive oil. As they cook, press hard with a fork until the colour is deep and golden
- Roman-style artichokes (Carciofi alla romana) – artichoke hearts filled with trimmed, chopped stems of garlic, parsley, and mint, braised in a mixture of olive oil and water
- Risotto with artichokes, peas and fava beans
- Tender artichokes battered and fried (fritto misto)
- Artichoke in frittata
- Easter pie (torta pasqualina) with greens, egg and cheese in a thin yeast-leavened crust
- Roasted, fried, sautéed artichokes
Choosing good artichokes
If you are buying artichokes, you need to be careful because artichokes start to lose their qualities quickly after they are cut from their plant. The stem should be freshly cut and thick (in proportion to the bud). Avoid thin stems.
The artichoke should feel heavy (for their size) with tightly-closed leaves (not nearly flowering). Leaves must be full and firm. Avoid rubbery or withered-looking leaves. If you press the artichoke, it should squeak.
Foods that go well with artichokes
Artichokes aren’t hard to add into other recipes or combine with other foods, with peas and vegetables, with olive oil, butter (especially hollandaise sauce), lemon, vinaigrettes, garlic, onion, black pepper, anchovies, tuna, mushrooms, herbs, eggs (in a frittata), and for those interested, artichokes go well with cheese and meats, such as beef and lamb stew.
Wine and artichokes
Interestingly, wine and artichokes are a problematic combination. Artichokes contain cynarin which makes any liquid you drink immediately after eating artichoke taste sweet. This is in theory, however many people don’t notice at all and some people have a mild response. This effect can be overcome by either braising artichokes in a very flavour-rich stock, or choosing very acidic, dry wines. Rieslings fit the bill and some cool-climate Sauvignon Blancs, a Muscadet, a no-oak Chardonnay (Chablis, Champagne), a Fino or Manzanilla sherry, or even a pink rosé.
You can do many things with artichokes including steaming, grilling, roasting, sautéeing, add to stews, lightly fry, and add to risottos.
Growing locations and seasons
Artichokes are grown generally in California, USA, due to the weather (Castroville is The Artichoke Centre of the World, by its own naming). They like full sun, cool temperatures, and no frost. Artichoke season depends heavily on where you live, and likes temperatures of no more than 21oC (60soF).
Californian artichoke season is spring and autumn, but in Italy it’s December until March. Growing seasons, like most vegetables, have been extended through breeding both early and late-season varieties, greenhousing, and shipping around the world. Concentrated peaks don’t really exist anymore. This keeps prices generally steady.
Variety of plants
Artichokes from older plants tend to make tougher buds with bigger chokes, and so Italians like to raise them on year-old plants. There are different varieties of artichoke with the consequent differing flavours and colours.
- Green Globe – these are the ones usually found in the USA
- Gros Vert de Laon – famous for its good flavours, originally French
- Romanesco – dominant, round bud, often found in Italy
- Violetto – often found in Italian markets, elongated shape