A native of the Mediterranean, the artichoke is a perennial in the thistle group of the sunflower (Compositae) family. In full growth, the plant spreads to cover an area about six feet in diameter and reaches a height of three to four feet. Its long, arching, deeply serrated leaves give the plant a fern-like appearance. The Green Globe cultivar accounts for essentially all the artichokes grown in this area.
The “vegetable” that we eat is actually the plant’s flower bud. If allowed to flower, the blossoms measure up to seven inches in diameter and are a beautiful violet-blue color. The size of the bud depends upon where it is located on the plant. The largest are “terminal” buds produced at the end of the long central stems. These are the ones you are most likely to see from the car during a springtime drive throughout the area. Buds are smaller lower on the stem.
Most people cook the whole artichoke, and slip each leaf petal, one by one, through their teeth until they reach the delectable heart. Children love them because the get to eat artichokes with their fingers!
The artichoke is fun to eat, and it’s good for you. One 12-ounce artichoke is a good source of vitamin C, folate and potassium. It’s low in sodium, fat-free and a dieter’s delight at only 25 calories.
In addition to eating them “straight up,” many consumers have discovered that artichokes also make excellent additions to stir-fry and pasta dishes.
Once you’ve eaten all the leaves you’ll see the heart or flower of the choke. By the way, the leaves closest to the heart of the choke are very tender and depending on the size and age of the choke you can frequently eat the whole cluster of leaves. Once you see a bed of fuzzy or hair like strands you’ve hit the heart. Scoop out the fuzz with a spoon and discard. The rest of the base of the choke is edible, referred to as the heart. This is the favorite part of the artichoke for some people.
Choose globes that are dark green, heavy, and have “tight” leaves. Don’t select globes that are dry looking or appear to be turning brown. If the leaves appear too “open” then the choke is past its prime. You can still eat them, but the leaves may be tough. (Don’t throw these away you can always make artichoke soup).
Fresh artichokes should be put in a plastic bag, unwashed, and refrigerated. It is best to use them within 4 days of purchase.
Stand prepared artichoke in deep saucepan or pot with 3 inches boiling water. (If desired, oil, lemon juice and seasonings can be added to cooking water.) Cover and boil gently 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size, or until petal near the center pulls out easily. Stand artichoke upside down on a rack to drain,
Place prepared artichoke on a rack above an inch or two of boiling water. Cover and steam 25 to 45 minutes, depending on size, or until a petal near the center pulls out easily.
For one: Set one medium sized prepared artichoke upside down in a small glass bowl (a 2 cup measure will do) with ¼ cup water, ½ teaspoon each lemon juice and oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Cook on high 6 to 7 minutes. Let stand covered 5 minutes after cooking.
Artichokes are low in calories, have zero fat and are a good source of fiber and Vitamin C.