A lot of people find artichokes intimidating. When artichokes are prepared well they are to die for. I even had a cream of Artichoke soup at a little cafe in Carmel a year or so ago that was excellent. I'm still trying to duplicate it.
There are more than 50 varieties of Artichokes. The most common type in the United States is the Green Globe. The mini versions you may see, known as baby artichokes are ideal for sautes and stir frying AND are as flavorful, if not more so than the larger ones. The size difference is due to where they grow on the stalk. The higher on the stalk, the bigger the artichoke.
Choosing an Artichoke:
- You want an artichoke with a large heart and tender leaves.
- Artichokes tend to have larger hearts if they are rounder.
- They also have more tender leaves the smaller they get.
- Look for deep-green, tight-leafed globes that feels heavy for its size.
- When you squeeze the artichoke's leaves together and it squeaks, it's a fresh one.
- Discoloration, bruising or split leaves are signs of age. Fresh artichokes may have purple-tinged leaves in late summer and fall.
- It's best to choose the smallest and roundest artichoke you can find.
- I personally find large (grapefruit sized) Artichokes to be less tender and more fibrous. The small (egg sized) and medium (orange sized) ones are much more tender and easier to work with.
- Wash your Artichoke in cold running water and leave upside down to drain a few minutes.
- Artichokes cannot be rushed - allow enough time for proper preparation. If you are going to be short on time, plan to prepare it the day before and then reheat.
- You MUST trim the bottom stem and top leaves. Trimming the bottom rough part of the stem allows flavor to flow into the artichoke as it cooks. Trimming the top leaves (about 3/4 - 1 inch) does the same thing as well as removing the sticker part that WILL cut you if you're not careful. Depending on how they look trim the very bottom leaves off the stem. Don't be afraid to trim the tops as necessary. Remember that only about the bottom third of each leaf is actually edible.
- Immediately rub any cut surface with lemon juice to prevent browning. You can also use flavored vinegars, but lemon juice is the most neutral.
- Don't forget even the stems are edible.
- Never use a cast iron or aluminum pot to cook them in! The will discolor the pot AND the artichoke too! Use enamel or stainless steel.
There are as many ways to prepare an Artichoke as you have imagination. I'll just list a few of the basic ones. Remember too that your seasoning and liquid all add flavor, so be creative. For example trade the water for chicken broth or add a touch of olive oil and garlic or flavored vinegars or juices...
You can also buy one of those baskets to stand your Artichoke in, but I prefer to use thick sliced onion rings in order to add a bit of flavor and have less mess when it's all done. Despite most instructions you can cook an artichoke upside down too. I like this if I'm using many flavors. The flavors are being infused into the leaves and then the leaves are constantly draining back down into the base. This works much the same way as the drip knobs on the lid of a roasting pan. The onion rings work also either way.
- Boiling: This is done with plain old water with a bit of salt. It has been determined that this is the least healthy way to prepare most vegetables since you are boiling the nutrients out of the vegetable itself. You add the Artichokes to rapidly boiling water. They take between 25-40 minutes until tender based on size.
- Braising: This is the best method for using your flavored oils, vinegars and seasonings. Prepare your flavor combo and then add 2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer before adding the onion rings and Artichokes. Cover tightly and simmer 25-40 minutes until tender.
- DeepFrying: This is good for the hearts only.Dip them in the batter of your choice and fry until golden.
- Grilling: Yep, you read right. Artichokes can be grilled and are EXCELLENT done that way. You do need to pre-cook them by steaming or microwaving until tender, but then it's up to you. I then cut them right down the middle so I'll have a flat side for the grill. I then like to soak them overnight in a lemon juice and garlic butter mixture before grilling. A Tupperware marinader that can be turned frequently without leaking works well. They don't take long on the grill so just before you meat is finished grilling add the artichokes, turning frequently to prevent burning until the desired charring has been reached. Hubby has been known to add BBQ sauce and they are pretty tastey.
- Microwaving: This is the fastest way, but not necessarily the tastiest. Stand Artichoke in a microwave safe bowl and add 1-2 inches of water. Cover bowl with a plate. Cooking on high a medium Artichoke will take 7-10 minutes while a large Artichoke will take 12-15 minutes. If cooking more than one at a time, you will need to add 2-3 minutes per additional each Artichoke. Let stand for 5 minutes in the covered bowl before serving.
- Roasting: Roasting Artichokes will bring out their nutty flavor. This method also requires pre-cooking but reduce the precooking method time by 10 minutes. I like to dip each leaf into a combination of olive oil and garlic rice wine vinegar. I then let them drain a bit on a paper towel. Arrange the leaves on a stainless steel cookie sheet coated with a thin layer of PURE. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast in a 425 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until tender and and edges are just crisp. Start with the concave side of leaf down and turn mid way.
- Sauteing: This method is also just for the hearts. Season with your favorite seasoning and then saute' 3-5 minutes in your favorite oil.
- Steaming: This is the most ideal method for maintaining the nutrients. Stand the Artichoke in the basket or onion rings. Add enough liquid that the pan won't boil dry (you might have to add water so keep an eye on it), but make sure the Artichoke is above the water level. Cover and steam over the rapidly boiling water for 30-50 minutes until Artichokes are tender. Time depends on size.
- Stuffed and Baked: This is one of my very most favorite ways to prepare an Artichoke. Pre-cook but reduce the precooking method time by 10 minutes. Halve the Artichokes. Mix together olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper with a clove of garlic. Pulse into a thick paste. Using a spoon coat the inside of each leaf. Place on a stainless steel baking sheet sprayed with a thin layer of PURE. Bake at 400 degrees until tender. Drizzle with fresh lemon juice and butter immediately out of the oven. Serve with roast chicken or pork chops. YUMMY!