THE MYSTERY OF THE ARTICHOKE

Most cooks fear the artichoke because it is unfamiliar. Its appearance is unwelcoming and it’s hard to determine what part you actually EAT!!  SO let’s fix that by explaining how to properly PEEL, STORE and COOK the artichoke.

KNOW YOUR VEGGIE:

Native to the Mediterranean, the artichoke is the edible flower bud of a thistle-like plant in the sunflower family which is eaten as a vegetable. One plant can produce up to 30 chokes of different sizes. The edible buds have a slightly nutty-flavor. Once the flower matures, the artichoke becomes inedible so the buds are harvested by hand before flowering.

How to PICK a good artichoke. You want the globe to be a nice green color with tight leaf formation. That helps determine its freshness. It should also feel heavy for its size. A quick tip is to press the leaves together and listen for a squeaking sound. Now, some artichokes may be what are called “winter-kissed”.  What this means is it will have a white, blistered appearance due to frost. Don’t despair. Many feel these are the most tender and more intense with flavor.

To prepare the artichoke, you’ll first want to wash it well, making sure to rinse between the leaves in cold running water. Next, pull off the lower petals that may be small or discolored. Cut your stem off close to the base. It’s suggested to use a stainless steel knife(*) to prevent discoloration. Don’t throw your stem away as this is also edible. Simply take a paring knife and peel away the green outer layer of the stem also cutting off about ½ inch of the ends. Now, the stems can be steamed and cut into rounds or julienne for salads or pasta dishes.

Back to our globe, next you will want to cut off the top quarter with a sharp knife. At this stage you will have multiple options. One is to simply scoop all of the interior section out and prepare the globe as a serving piece. It can be stuffed with a sauteed mix of spicy sausage, bell peppers, onions and maybe mushrooms. Then the stuffed globe would be baked with a bit of olive oil drizzled over it. Your family will enjoy the stuffing and the peeling each petal off and eating them as well. If you wish to eat the petals, pay close attention, because the meat of the petal is just at the tips. You want to bite down about a quarter of the way up and slide the meat out. The tips can be dipped in a garlic butter or spicy mayonnaise sauce for added flavor kick.

TIPS:

Use a stainless steel knife(*) to trim the artichoke and avoid iron or aluminum cooking pots to discourage discoloration.

A light spray of lemon juice will prevent darkening of trimmed artichokes awaiting preparation.

Artichokes are fully cooked when a bottom leaf can easily be pulled from the base. Raw hearts should be cooked in acidulated (lemon juice or vinegar) water.

Forego any good wine while eating artichokes. They cause chemical changes which affect the taste buds, enhancing sweet flavors.

STORAGE:  A fresh unwashed globe can be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to one week. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to four days. You can freeze them as well if you cook them first, drain completely and wrap tightly in a freezer bag then make sure to remove the air and seal.

HEALTH FACTS: What many may not know is that the artichoke is actually full of important vitamins and nutrients. I found out from “elements 4 health.com” that it is low in calories, having only 60 calories for a medium sized globe, naturally fat free and helps control blood sugars in diabetics. As well as lowering cholesterol it is also a good source of Vitamins A & C, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, potassium and magnesium. It is also said that in Ancient Greece and Rome it was used to enhance the libidos of men. A natural Viagra if you will.

So, let’s review. We’ve found out that preparing and eating an artichoke is really not that complicated. We’ve learned that the can be stored for a short time, but it is best to eat them right away for peak of freshness. Also, surprisingly, they are loaded with a variety of nutrients and healthful advantages. Nearly one hundred percent of all artichokes are grown commercially in the California.

DID YOU KNOW? Marilyn Monroe was the first official Ms. California Artichoke Queen when she was crowned in 1949. Now if it’s good enough for a glamour queen perhaps we can all be willing to give it a try.

 

 

 

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