What are artichokes?
Artichoke is a plant that is closely related to the thistle and mainly occurs in the Mediterranean area. They are sold and eaten as vegetables, while it is actually an (unripe) flower. Just like a flower, an artichoke consists of a core surrounded by (trapped) leaves. In an artichoke, these leaves almost look like scales.
In the Benelux artichokes as vegetables are not commonly known (yet). A pity, because as soon as you know how to prepare them, they turn out to be a real delicacy! The taste is very specific but smooth. With a tiny hint of bitterness. Although only a few parts of the plant are edible (more about that soon), the artichoke is perfect for all kinds of preparations. The taste of it fits in a wide variety of other ingredients.
When in season?
Artichokes are theoretically available throughout the year but are only grown on a small scale in the Netherlands. In the period May to November they are mainly imported from France. Outside this period, most of the Artichokes import comes from countries like Egypt and Spain. In short: it is certainly not a local vegetable and therefore wise to eat them only in moderation. Even though artichoke contains a lot of minerals.
Where to buy artichokes (and how to check their quality)?
For the forementioned reason (read: mainly import) and the fact that the artichoke is not very well-known in the Benelux, fresh specimens are relatively rare here. Although you can find them more and more often. Besides that, most supermarkets also offer artichoke hearts or artichoke bottoms in a jar or in a tin. In any case, you will probably be able to get fresh artichokes at a specialist greengrocer.
When purchasing fresh artichokes you should check the leaves first. These must be close to each other, look fresh (meaning: not brown) and have a thick, fleshy structure. The size of the artichoke can vary considerably depending on the variety. Size does not influence the quality in any way.
There are two types of artichokes: green and purple. Of which the green is by far the best known. At least in the Benelux. Purple artichokes are particularly popular in the Mediterranean area (like Italy and the Provence for example). Where the green artichoke is round, the purple artichoke is more conical and a lot smaller. Another big difference is that purple artichokes tend to be raw edible. Although we haven’t tried it ourselves yet 🙂
How to store an artichoke?
Fresh artichoke is best stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in a lightly moistened tea towel. That tea towel, in any case, prevents the vegetables from drying out quickly. This way you can keep them for up to 1 week. Of course, the sooner you consume the artichoke, the better. Artichoke hearts and bottoms in a can or jar are preserved in water with citric acid and salt. As long as the jars or cans are closed, they remain fresh for a very long time. Once opened, you can better consume them as quickly as possible
How to eat an artichoke?
As said, artichokes are in fact unripe flowers from which only the soft part of the fleshy bracts, the heart and (a part of) the bottom can be eaten. The stem and the fibrous part (the so-called ‘hay’ that you can find between the heart and the bottom) are not edible but very easy to remove.
Thanks to all these ‘individual parts’ an artichoke can be prepared and consumed in many ways. You can serve an artichoke in its entirety with a sauce in which you can then dip the bracts. This way you can ‘work’ to the heart and finally to the bottom. You can also serve only the heart and/or the bottom, whether baked or grilled. For example, artichokes do very well in salads, as a delicious pizza topping or as a festive appetizer.
How to cook artichokes? (boiled artichokes)
Although artichokes are very diverse, you must always boil or steam them in advance. At first, you need to remove the hard stalk and the rather tough leaves at the bottom (those that are closest to the stem). Also cut a part of the top straight with a knife. The only other equipment and ingredients you need are a spacious cooking pot, water, and a lemon. Lemon is indispensable because it ensures that the artichoke doesn’t oxidize/discolor during cooking. Skipping the lemon does not affect the taste, but the color gets really distasteful. So …
The rest of the preparation goes like this:
Put the cleaned artichoke into the pot in its entirety and pour it with water. Squeeze the lemon and add the juice, together with the lemon halves, to the water (be sure to use only organic lemons for this).
Place a plate on top of the artichoke so that it does not float on the surface. With that small intervention, you ensure that the cooking process will be much smoother.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook covered until the artichoke is done. Depending on the size, this can vary from 15 to 45 minutes. The artichoke is cooked once you can easily pierce it with a sharp knife. Remove the artichoke from the cooking water and allow to cool briefly.
As mentioned before, you can serve the cooked artichoke in its entirety. In case you only want the heart or the bottom; remove all the leaves until you reach the heart and then cut it out with a knife (okay, this sounds like a movie murder scene in a movie but you get the point ;)). To make the artichoke bottom ready to eat, remove the hay from the top. You can easily pick that off with your fingers.
Also a huge fan of artichokes? Leave your comment below!