Cutting Class: How to Master the Artichoke
An ode to the artichoke: At first glance, you seem so different. Hard to read. You intimidate and intrigue us. We long to get close to your tender center, but your prickly exterior holds us at arm’s length. You may be baffling to dissect, but we know you’re oh-so-delicious inside. Oh wild thing, your heart makes ours sing!
You’ve admired them, too? Unsure how to approach? Pssst…follow us! If your idea of enjoying this edible thistle is opening a jar of marinated artichokes and mixing them into your go-to party dip, it’s time to learn how to start fresh. We’ll get to the heart of the matter and share how to choose and prep globe artichokes, and share cooking tips and recipe ideas, too!
First things first: What exactly is this thing? Fruit or vegetable? As with tomatoes and avocados, classifying can be puzzling. The short answer is veggie, but technically an artichoke is a thistle. When the thistle matures, it becomes a flower, but we don’t actually eat the fruit of this flower. The edible portions are the fleshy parts of the leaves surrounding what will become the flower, as well as part of the stem or base. So in keeping with most people’s initial perception of preparing an artichoke, it sounds more complicated than it really is. But the nutritional skinny is completely straightforward— artichokes are high in vitamin C, fiber, potassium and powerful antioxidants. Fun fact: One of these phytonutrients, cynarin, not only helps lower cholesterol and strengthen liver function, but also stimulates taste buds. This means the artichoke actually helps the foods you pair it with taste even better.
Selecting a good one is actually fairly intuitive. Think fresh and green, not dry and brown. Need more guidance?
- Choose those that are firm and heavy for their size.
- Squeeze and listen for a slight squeak, which indicates freshness.
- Leaves should be dark green and tightly closed.
- Other signs of veggies past their prime: split or open leaves and black blemishes under leaves (check by gently pulling back a couple).
- Although heavy browning is a bad sign, a bronze tint in cooler months is acceptable.
JUST A TRIM
We’re not kidding. Nothing elaborate here, just a sharp blade and few simple steps. Ready?
- First, thoroughly rinse the artichoke under cold running water. Use your fingers or a soft veggie brush to remove the light (natural) film, which can impart a slightly bitter taste if left on.
- Use a serrated knife like the one in the CHICAGO CUTLERY® INSIGNIA STEEL™ 18-PC. KNIFE SET to slice an inch off the top of the artichoke and another 1/2 to 1 inch off the stem.
TIP: Cut off the stem completely to give the artichoke a flatter base for stuffing and serving upright. br>
- Cut off the tips of the leaves with a CHICAGO CUTLERY® DELUXE SCISSORS. This step is optional but makes for a pretty presentation.
PURE AND SIMPLE
With a unique and versatile flavor, the artichoke pairs well with tons of dishes, from pizza to pasta to salads. But if you’ve never enjoyed this veggie all on its own, it’s time to dig in! Here are the easiest ways to cook and consume one (or more) as is:
- BOIL: Bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil, then add rinsed and trimmed artichokes. Cover, reduce heat slightly and simmer until tender (30-45 minutes, depending on size). The artichokes will float when cooking, which is fine, but you can try placing a smaller pot lid directly over the artichokes to keep them submerged.
- STEAM: Place a steamer basket in a large pot, then fill the pot with water to just under the basket. Set artichokes in the basket with the stems facing up, and cover with lid. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and steam artichokes until tender. Cooking time will be similar to the boiling method.
- BAKE: Heat oven to 425°F. When using this method, you can spread the artichoke leaves open slightly and drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt, pepper, garlic or any other desired flavors. Wrap each artichoke in two layers of heavy-duty foil and seal well. Place them directly on center oven rack and bake for about 1 hour for medium-sized artichokes. (Larger artichokes will need an additional 10-15 minutes.) Be sure to let cool a bit and use caution while unwrapping the foil packet.
TIP: To test for doneness, insert a sharp knife into the base of the artichoke. If it goes through with ease, your artichoke is ready to eat.
PETAL BY PETALNow what? Again, eating is easier than it looks. Start by peeling off leaves one at a time and dipping the fleshy inner end in melted butter, lemon juice, mayo or aioli. Scrape off the soft part with your teeth and toss the tough part aside. When you get to the center, scoop away and discard the fuzzy “choke” that covers the heart. Cut the heart into pieces, dip in sauce, eat and sigh with pleasure. (Do the same with the stem, if you left it intact).
MORE WAYS TO LOVE ’EM
- SMOKY: Steam, then slice in half lengthwise (from top to bottom), brush with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place on hot grill, cut side down, over direct heat for about 5 minutes or until lightly charred.
- STUFFED: Do like Alexe from Keys to the Cucina and fill artichokes with a hearty Italian-inspired combo of bread crumbs, Parmesan, mushrooms and bacon…or lighten up by mixing the bread crumbs with grated lemon peel, chopped carrots and fresh thyme, like this recipe from The Kitchn.
- SWIRLED: Make an addictive dip by mixing chopped artichoke hearts with spinach, Parmesan, cream cheese and mayo for the classic version…or venture into new territory and try the fun (and healthy) new flavor combos in our Roasted Red Pepper and Kale Artichoke Dip or Baked Artichoke, Shrimp and Corn Spread.
TIP: Although both of these recipes call for that jarred shortcut we mentioned earlier, now that you know how easy it is to prep and cook them, simply substitute an equal amount of freshly cooked chopped artichoke heart and control the amount of fat and sodium by adding olive oil and seasonings yourself. br>
- Rub lemon juice on the top, the cut ends of the leaves and the stem to prevent browning.
- Add a clove of garlic or a slice of lemon to the water when boiling or steaming.
- Refrigerate fresh artichokes in a plastic bag for up to 5 days; wash just before cooking.
Whether you find artichokes irresistible or intimidating, we think it’s time for a heart-to-heart. What have you got to lose?
YOUR TURN: What’s your favorite way to eat artichokes?