Artichokes are a vegetable that may seem intimidating, but they are not only delicious, they are also healthy, full of nutrients and antioxidants. As such, their external intimidation factor should not deter you from including them in your meals.
Artichokes, believe it or not, are actually flowers (same as broccoli, cauliflower, and capers), and the part we eat is the flower bud of the plant. They contain lots of phenolic compounds, which do two things. First, it gives them such high antioxidant power. Second, it causes them to brown quickly once they are cut. This reaction can be slowed by rubbing citrus over the exposed areas.
With the cooking methods and ideas below, preparing artichokes can become fairly painless.
It's not apparent how to get started with an artichoke, even when it comes to with picking them out at the store, so let's just start there. How do you know whether an artichoke is fresh? Keep your eyes peeled for the ones with their petals pretty tightly closed; they will be more refreshing and more tender than those with open leaves. They will be even better in terms of tenderness if they appear to have been kissed by frost.
Now, to the actual prep.
1. Cut off the tips of the artichoke petals if they have thorns on them. This can be done with kitchen scissors.
2. Slice the top of the artichoke off, anywhere from three-quarters of an inch to a full inch. This step might be most comfortable with a serrated bread knife.
3. The small petals at the base and on the stem should be removed.
4. Remove any stem more than an inch, as the stems are on the bitter side. If you like sour, feel free to leave some additional stem intact.
5. Give the artichokes a gentle, long rinse under cold water. During the rinsing process, make sure the water enters inside the petals by opening them up a bit.
6. Season the artichoke with anything you like, but if you're keeping it simple, you might include minced garlic, salt, pepper, lemon, and olive oil. While this step is optional, it comes recommended for flavor.
Begin by preheating the oven/grill to about 425F. Use heavy-duty tin foil to wrap the artichoke after it has been prepped and seasoned, making sure it is tightly closed to help the artichoke steam in its juices. This will be useless if there is a leak from the tin foil. Place the artichoke in a baking dish or on the grill and bake/grill for around one hour. An artichoke that is ready to eat will be tender enough that a knife can cut right through it without resistance.
Boiling an artichoke might make pre-seasoning it less useful, so in this case, seasoning the water to your liking can be done as an additional step. Using salt, garlic, whole peppercorns, and lemon rinds will get the job done. Place the prepped artichoke in a pot filled with your seasoned water. It will float, so use a heatproof item like a lid or a bowl to weigh it down. Cover the pot and bring the water to a medium boil, and let it boil lightly for about 20 minutes. Again, the artichoke is ready to eat when it can be cut through with a knife without resistance. Drain it upside down to get rid of excess water before digging in.
Use a large pot and begin by bringing a few inches of water to a heavy boil. Put your artichoke in a steamer basket over the water in the pot, cover the pot, and reduce heat to just a simmer. Let the artichoke steam for around 25 minutes. You'll know it's done when a knife has no trouble cutting through it. It is best to avoid checking too soon to see if it is finished because letting the steam get out will cause you to have to let the steam build up again, increasing the cooking time significantly.
That is up to you, but to end up with the best texture and flavor, the artichoke can not dehydrate. Even small losses of moisture can lead to leathery petals, leaving them inedible. Two signs of dehydration to look out for are when the first few layers of leaves don't have much "meat" to them and when the petals are too brown. That being said, the easiest way to keep an artichoke from dehydrating is by boiling it. While steaming and baking are viable options, boiling will lead to a much higher success rate.
Artichokes have a distinct flavor that pairs better with certain foods. Some notable choices are:
Spinach and Artichoke Grilled Cheese sandwiches are relatively simple and delicious. Ricotta, parmesan, and fresh mozzarella are perfect cheeses for this. Sundried tomatoes and garlic should not be overlooked.
Artichoke and Lemon Pasta also comes highly recommended. Goat cheese, parsley, and asparagus help make this dish spectacular.
Greek Artichoke Salad is another savory option. Use Kalamata olives, red and green pepper, feta, grape tomatoes, red onion, spring mix, and a natural dressing with olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, and lemon juice.
Artichokes don't have to be intimidating. Grab a few, try out these recipes, and see what other delectable dishes you can come up with!