Food Explorer: Into the Heart of Artichokes

Artichokes at CHEFScatalog.com

Here’s what I often wonder: Who was the first person to do (fill in the blank)? Usually this is something that seems completely ridiculous to attempt–say, bunjee jump off of a bridge. Who was the first person to say they’d like to tie giant rubber bands around their ankles and leap head first off a bridge?

Artichoke as a thistle at CHEFScatalog.comAnother such question was raised when I was asked to write about artichokes. How hungry was the first person who looked at a field of artichokes and thought, “Yeah, I can eat that.”

The name alone threw me off for years: arti-choke as in “stop breathing because of a blockage in your throat.” But then I got a look at one and, well, those spikes on the leaves did not help.

But, you know, I’m an intrepid person. I have a sense of adventure. So I thought that I would look up artichoke and learn more. And did I!

That’s when I learned that artichokes are—are you ready for this?—a thistle. Wikipedia—oh, come on, you check things there too—says a thistle is “a flowering plant characterized by leaves and sharp spikes….” Anyone else start salivating at the idea of eating “sharp spikes?” Yeah, me too.

So, we’re back to the original query: How hungry do you have to be to look at a field of artichokes—which can grow almost 7-foot tall—and think, “I’m going to eat that thing with the spikes on its leaves.”

Our friends at Wikipedia don’t record who that fearless individual was, but they do tell us the plants were eaten by the ancient Greeks and Romans, so apparently this is not a new trend.

Therefore, in the interest of education (and because no one calls me chicken!) I decided to eat an artichoke. First, I made sure my will was up to date and then I followed these steps from Simply Recipes:

How to cook an artichoke

  1. If the artichokes have little thorns on the end of the leaves, take a kitchen scissors and cut off the thorned tips of all of the leaves. This step is mostly for aesthetics as the thorns soften with cooking and pose no threat to the person eating the artichoke. (Michael: Definitely take the time for this step. Aesthetics are important.)
  2. Slice about ¾-inch to an inch off the tip of the artichoke.
  3. Pull off any smaller leaves toward the base and on the stem.Artichokes at CHEFScatalog.com
  4. Cut off excess stem, leaving up to an inch on the artichoke. The stems tend to be more bitter than the rest of the artichoke, but some people like to eat them.
  5. Rinse the artichokes in running cold water. (Michael: Some sites suggest cleaning the artichoke by submerging it in warm salt water for an hour. I did not do this. I live on the edge.)
  6. In a large pot, put a couple inches of water, a clove of garlic, a slice of lemon, and a bay leaf (this adds wonderful flavor to the artichokes). Insert a steaming basket. Add the artichokes. Cover. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 25 to 45 minutes or until the outer leaves can easily be pulled off. Note: artichokes can also be cooked in a pressure cooker (about 15-20 minutes cooking time). Cooking time depends on how large the artichoke is, the larger, the longer it takes to cook.

How to eat an artichoke

Artichokes may be eaten cold or hot, but I think they are much better hot. They are served with a dip, either melted butter or mayonnaise. A favorite dip is mayo with a bit of balsamic vinegar mixed in. I chose mayo with some cracked pepper.

  1. Pull off outer petals, one at a time.
  2. Dip white fleshy end in melted butter or sauce. Tightly grip the other end of the petal. Place in mouth, dip side down, and pull through teeth to remove soft, pulpy, delicious portion of the petal. Discard remaining petal. Continue until all of the petals are removed.
  3. With a knife or spoon, scrape out and discard the inedible fuzzy part (called the “choke”) covering the artichoke heart. The remaining bottom of the artichoke is the heart. Cut into pieces and dip into sauce to eat.

From Simply Recipes

What did I think?

Well, all things considered, artichokes are–different. It’s tough to adequately describe one if you haven’t eaten one, but here are my impressions:

  • Texture: Sort of soft, creamy/waxy.
  • Taste: I’m tempted to say they taste like artichokes, because they really don’t tast like anything else I’ve ever eaten. But that’s not very helpful. Sort of like potatoes or parsnips, but not completely. I also got hints of asparagus.
  • Overall: If you like avocadoes, you’ll probably like artichokes. I’m not a huge fan of avocadoes.

I’m glad I tried them, and many people are rabid for them. A giant plus is that they’re fairly healthy eating, since they are high in antioxidants, have been known to help reduce cholesterol by raising good cholesterol (HDL) and lowering bad (LDL), and are high in fiber.

Will I eat them again? Let’s just say I will no longer avoid them simply because I haven’t tried them. But, be aware, while prep and eating are not difficult, both are pretty labor intensive for what you get. Not that that’s a bad thing.

Recipes you can use

Being new to the world of artichokes, it surprised me to find so many recipes for them. Perhaps adding them into other meals, rather than eating them alone, will be a better solution for me. Here’s one from Taste of Home that I’m looking forward to trying.

Chicken Artichoke Bake

Ingredients

  • Artichoke Chicken Bake at CHEFScatalog.com2 cans (10-3/4 ounces each) condensed cream of celery soup, undiluted
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 cups cubed cooked chicken
  • 1 can (14 ounces) water-packed artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained and chopped
  • 1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 1 package (6 ounces) long grain and wild rice mix
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jar (2 ounces) diced pimientos, drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup seasoned stuffing cubes

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine soup and mayonnaise. Stir in the chicken, artichokes, water chestnuts, rice mix with contents of seasoning packet, mushrooms, onion, pimientos, and pepper.
  2. Spoon into a greased 2-1/2-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle with stuffing cubes. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 55-65 minutes or until edges are bubbly and rice is tender.

Yield: 6 servings.

Everyone loves a good spinach artichoke dip. This one from Food.com with the parmesan cheese and garlic appeals to me.

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Spimach Artichoke Dip at CHEFScatalog.comIngredients

  • 2 cups parmesan cheese
  • 1 (10 ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Mix together Parmesan cheese, spinach, and artichoke hearts.

Combine remaining ingredients and mix with spinach mixture. Bake for 20-30 minutes.

Serve with crackers or toasted bread.

More recipes from CHEFScatalog.com:

Want to learn even more about artichokes?

Vist our In Season page!

Your turn: Have you tried artichokes? If so, what did you think? If not, why not?

Grilling Essentials at CHEFScatalog.com

Tell us what you think...

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s