One of the best parts of moving back home to Naples, Florida, is having some more sophisticated food choices at my fingertips. I have already publicly confessed my love of chicken wings two weeks ago in The Dish, but I am really excited to have access to restaurants that serve something other than college town pub food or discount sushi (something that really shouldn’t exist). Now all I need is a spare moment away from work, cooking, and blogging to grab a friend and chow down!
Bricktop’s, a favorite lunch spot of mine here in town, happens to serve grilled artichokes with aioli dipping sauce as an appetizer. Even after ordering this dish countless times, I still can’t believe how something so simple can be so delicious. Frozen artichoke hearts are a staple in my kitchen, but I had never actually prepared fresh, whole artichokes before. So, this week I decided to try something new! (Also, truth be told, my bank account took a bit of a hit after last week’s decadent osso buco post, so I was looking for something a little easier on my wallet and my waistline.)
Sadly, as a young adult still stuck in the apartment stage of life, I’m not currently able to own a grill. In lieu of grilled ‘chokes, I decided to try both steaming and roasting them. After a bit of research, it was very clear to me that most people are seriously intimidated by these prehistoric-looking flower buds. The truth of the matter is that they couldn’t be easier to prepare.
Although they are available pretty much year-round, the peak season for artichokes is spring. Nevertheless, I’m afraid I may have bought the very last of this season’s crop at Whole Foods earlier this week. All of the photos accompanying artichoke recipes online show crisp, vibrant green buds, but the ones I brought home—the only four left in the entire store—had very little in common with their more glamorous counterparts. They were still very tasty, regardless! A friend of mine opted to be my guinea pig this week, and I think we both decided that the steamed version was our favorite.
As I mentioned, artichokes are actually immature flowers of a species of thistle plant. The rigid ‘petals’ surrounding the artichoke are actually called bracts, and they help protect the flower inside from harsh weather and pests (like hungry, aioli-wielding humans).1 At the base of each bract is a bit of edible flesh, and deeper within the artichoke are the renowned heart and choke.
Be careful not to confuse the two! The heart is very tender and flavorful, while the choke is fibrous and will leave you feeling like you tried to swallow a handful of sawdust if you accidentally eat it. After peeling away (and savoring) all of the heartier bracts, you will be left with a stem and/or base with some softer, smaller petals. Upon removing these, you will see the fuzzy choke. Remove all of these fibers, and underneath you will find the prized heart!
Artichokes are suspected to have originated in the Mediterranean, although they quickly became popular and spread throughout the world over the centuries.2 Interestingly enough, nearly 100% of all commercially produced artichokes in the United States are grown in California.3 Scientists believe that the contemporary globe variety of artichoke actually descended from wild cardoons, which are also a part of the thistle family, but spikier and altogether more bizarre looking.2
However, the ancient Greek origin story surrounding the beloved artichoke is a bit more dramatic. It is said that the god Zeus fell madly in love with a mortal woman named Cynara, seduced her, made her a goddess, and brought her back to Mount Olympus to live with him. (Doesn’t sound too shabby, eh?) But poor Cynara became lonely and began secretly returning home to visit her family. Of course, the almighty Zeus eventually caught her sneaking around. This angered him so much that he banished her from Olympus and turned her into an artichoke.2 Leave it to the ancient Greeks to think up a scandalous and soap-opera-worthy origin story for an edible thistle bud…
Now that you’ve got a bit of background on this mysterious vegetable, here’s some practical information as well:
Basic Artichoke Prep
Before you start tackling any kind of recipe using whole artichokes, it’s important to know how to clean and prepare them. These tend to brown quickly once you start working with them, so try not to start your prep until you’re ready to pop them into the oven, onto the grill, etc. If you’re worried about your artichokes browning, or trying to get your prep done ahead of time, have half a lemon on hand to rub along the freshly trimmed areas in order to prevent oxidation. Here’s the skinny on ‘chokes:
- Like any kind of produce, rinse your artichokes well with cold water.
- Remove any small straggler leaves or unsightly dangly bits along the base of the bud and the stem.
- Cut about an inch off the top of the bulb.
- If you wish to keep the entire artichoke intact, trim a quarter inch off the stem and use a vegetable peeler to remove the fibrous outer layer. Otherwise, remove the entire stem.
- If your artichoke has small barbs at the end of each petal, use a pair of kitchen shears to snip off these sharp points.
Your are now ready to become an artichoke master!
(Adapted from ‘How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke’ by Elise Bauer on Simply Recipes)
- 4 artichokes, washed and prepared as stated above
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lemon, halved, plus juice
- A few tablespoons of olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Black peppercorns (optional)
In a large pot, add a couple inches of water, the garlic, a few pinches of salt, the bay leaf, oil, and peppercorns, if using. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the pot, and add the juiced halves as well. Bring this mixture to a boil.
Once boiling, insert a steamer basket into the pot and place the artichokes on top. If you are not using a basket, simply place the artichokes stem end up in the pot. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer.
Allow the artichokes to steam for 25 to 45 minutes depending on their size. When done, the outer leaves at the base of the stem can be removed easily.
(From Chef John on AllRecipes.com)
- 4 artichokes, washed and prepared as stated above
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¼ good olive oil
- Kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
In a bowl, gently spread the petals of each artichoke apart and drizzle the olive oil and lemon juice over the tops of the buds.
Insert a paring knife into the middle of each artichoke in order to create a small space. Insert a garlic clove into each cavity, and then season to taste with salt.
Wrap each artichoke tightly with a piece of parchment paper, and then again with a piece of foil (or two). Place the artichokes on a sheet pan and bake for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.
I recommend serving the cooked ‘chokes warm with aioli or your favorite dipping sauce. What is your favorite way to cook and eat artichokes?
Harrison, M. (2011, March 9). Bracts: Leaves, Petals, or Something Else? Dave’s Garden. Retrieved from http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3156
Rupp, R. (2014, November 12). The History of Artichokes. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2014/11/12/artichokes/
California Artichoke Advisory Board. (2015). Retrieved from http://artichokes.org/