Artichoke

When I laid eyes on these beauties, I thought they were some type of unique flower. After careful examination, it was clear what they were, but I also got confirmation from my friend, who saw the questioning look on my face, that they were artichokes.

 

Come to find out an artichoke is technically a flower. A single artichoke is the unopened flower bud of the plant Cynara scoymus – a relative of the thistle family.

 

Until my recent trip to Oregon, I had only seen artichokes piled one atop another on shelves or in baskets at Whole Foods or farmers markets. I hadn’t seen an entire artichoke plant up close and in the garden, and had no idea it is a tall spectacular plant.

 

Varieties of Artichokes

Artichokes range in size and color – from green, to red, to purple. It seems hard to imagine but amazingly there are over 140 varieties of artichokes, and less than a third from this number are produced commercially. That’s a whole lot of variety and for the sake of the length of this post I’ll focus on a few.

Globe Artichoke or French Artichoke – has a delicate rich flavor, is green in color.

Lyon – has a mild flavor, is a large round green artichoke with compact leaves, and is heavy for its size.

Campania – has a mild flavor similar to the Lyon artichoke, is large and red in color, in fact it is said to be the largest red artichoke of all the red varieties.

What about Baby Artichokes?

I assumed baby artichokes were a different variety but I’ve learned otherwise. They are a smaller version of larger artichokes, and both come from the same single plant. The smaller “baby” artichokes are located on the lower part of the plant. The large leaves shelter it from receiving lots of direct sunlight, in a way stunning its growth, and this contributes to their smaller size. Also the inner fuzzy portion of the choke does not develop in smaller or “baby” artichokes.

Nutritional Profile and Benefits of Artichokes

It was a surprise to learn that artichoke is an antioxidant powerhouse, and is an excellent source of vitamin C and is a good source of protein. Artichokes also have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties.

Artichokes contain the vitamins and minerals:

Calcium | Dietary Fiber | Iron | Magnesium | Potassium | Protein | Vitamin C

Selecting and Storing Artichokes

Look for artichokes that are heavy for its size, that squeak when squeezed – pressing the leaves against each other should produce a squeaking sound – and have leaves that are tight and compact. These are signs of a fresh artichoke. Avoid artichokes that are wilting, drying or have mold.

If you are fortunate to have an artichoke plant, you probably already know how to harvest artichoke, but for those who don’t, harvest artichokes while it is still green and before the pedals open.

Store fresh artichokes unwashed in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.

How to Prepare Artichokes

Wash the artichokes under cool running water. Pull off the toughest outer lower petals and trim or snip off any sharp leaf tips off of the outer leaves. Snap or cut the stalk off at the base and remove the tough fibers running into the base where possible.

To gain access to the artichoke heart, gently pry the leaves open and pull out the central cone of thinner leaves to reveal the inedible fibrous ‘choke’ [the ‘choke’ generally is not present in smaller baby artichokes]. Carefully scrape out the choke with a teaspoon. Be careful to leave the artichoke heart in tact.

To avoid discoloration, rinse the artichoke heart with acidulated water – which is simply water with a squeeze of lemon juice or a little vinegar.

Serving Artichokes Raw

The variety doesn’t seem to make a huge difference when it comes to eating raw artichoke it’s the freshness that is key.

The meaty part of the leaf is edible and most people discard the stem but it is edible and is said to taste just like the artichoke heart.

Artichokes are a versatile vegetable well suited as an ingredient in a variety of recipes. Enjoy the artichoke hearts whole, or enjoy it and the other parts marinated, pureed, or shaved. Serve it as a salad, as an ingredient in a salad; make a soup, an appetizer, or a dip with it.

Don’t throw away those artichoke leaves. You can infuse them in water to make tea!

 

I had to get a picture of this! I bought the artichoke you see in the above photo at the grocery store and when I arrived home, I set it on the table, and that was where it stayed for a couple weeks.

One afternoon my husband saw something purple growing from its center. I couldn’t believe it was blooming! I still have this amazing artichoke. It is displayed in a thin tall vase of water. The purple flower has receded inward a bit, but it still looks healthy and vibrant. I think I will plant it and see what happens.

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