We all pass by them at the grocery store or the farmers market – those weird spiking looking things that resemble a cross between a flower and a pinecone. Few of us have ever eaten an artichoke and even fewer have ever tried to cook one. But, with the right knowledge these unusual vegetables are are easy to tackle and make a tasty, nutritious and elegant addition to any dinner.
How to Pick Out an Artichoke:
* Their growing season in the south is between July and September.
*Look for plump, hefty, compact veggie with dark green leaves that are tightly closed. Avoid artichokes that have open leaves, hard tips or dry and discolored leaves.
* If the leaves squeak together when rubbed gently, you know that it is a fresher artichoke.
How to Store an Artichoke:
* Keep them in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator. They will last up to 3-4 days, but are best when used in 1-2.
How to Prep an Artichoke:
*If you intend to stuff them, cut off the bottom stem so that they sit upright. To make them look prettier you can also cut off the top portion of the artichoke and reveal the floret design of the leaves.
Like apples, artichoke can turn a brownish color easily, to help prevent this, rub a little lemon juice on the leaves (a trick that also works well with apples.)
* Artichoke leaves have a protective coating that can easily be removed with too much washing. So make sure to only wash the veggie before you are going to use it. Just rinse them in water.
* Avoid using carbon blade knifes as they will turn the leaves a brownish color. Stainless steel works perfectly and will not discolor the artichoke.
* The larger outer leaves can be a bit tough and may have little thorn. Use scissors to snip them back by 1/2 – 3/4.
* While it is not requires, soaking the artichoke for 45 minutes in a bowl of water with 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice will bring out the flavor.
How to Cook an Artichoke:
* As a general rule the quicker you cook an artichoke the better it retains its bright green color.
* There are any number of ways that you can fix an artichoke. Regardless of how you cook them, you know they are done when they can be easily pierced with a fork. If you intend to serve them cold, submerge them immediately in a bath of ice water.
* Stovetop – place the artichoke in a covered pot of water with the leaves pointing up. Simmer for 30-40 minutes.
* Grilling – place them over medium coals for 3-5 minutes
* Steaming – steam for 25-35 minutes
* Microwave – cook on high for 5-8 minutes an allow to rest for 5-6 minutes
*Stay away from aluminum pans when cooking an artichoke, it can turn them an unsightly brown. Use ceramic, stainless steel or glass.
* If they have been sitting in your refrigerator for a day or two, add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to each cup of water you use. Fresh artichokes have a natural sweetness. This added sugar will add a little of sweetness that may have been lost and the salt will help them keep their color and flavor when cooking. Even if the artichoke is very fresh, a bit of sugar and salt in the water will always help make them tastier.
* A tablespoon of olive oil in the water will help make them shine.
How to Serve an Artichoke:
* You can serve artichoke a couple of ways…
* Stuff them – Slip a grapefruit spoon under the top leaves and pull out the heart (also known as the choke). Use the same spoon to remove any of the fibrous stringy bits on the center walls. Stuff with cheese, breadcrumbs and/or meats.
* Slice and Serve – Slice the artichoke lengthwise right through the center heart. Cut away the choke and scrape out the fibrous tissue, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and serve.
* Pull & Dip – One of my personal favorites! Once the artichoke is fully cooked, serve it whole as a appetizer with a fabulous dipping sauce. Let you guest pull off the leaves and use them as they would cornchips.