Artichokes are natives of the Mediterranean region and are relatives of thistles. The flower bud is the portion of the plant that is harvested and eaten either steamed, boiled, or pickled. The Artichoke plant grows 3 to 4 feet high and is relatively hardy in most temperate regions of the world. It was introduced into California in the 1920's and has become a favorite of gourmet chefs ever since.
With a little care, you can nurse your artichoke plants through the winter by placing a heavy mulch over the plant stub after the Fall harvest. Green Glove variety seems to be the most cold tolerant, lasting through the winter in altitudes above 1,000 feet.
Artichoke hearts are used in salads, casseroles, steamed and eaten by pulling the leaves from the artichoke, dipping them in drawn lemon butter and eating the fleshy part of the leaves where the leaves meet the plant stalk. The center undeveloped flower bud, called the "choke" can be sliced or quartered and used in a variety of dishes from sautes with tomatoes, marinated with other vegetables, stuffed with bread crumbs and other vegetables, and quartered and pickled.
To prepare the hearts of the Artichoke, the outer leaves are removed down to the center of the bud. The fine "hairs" in the center of the bud are the thistles that will form the center of the flower if the plant were left to bloom, known as the "choke". This center will need to be removed and discarded. What you have left is the heart of the artichoke.
Large Kitchen Shears
Large, Sturdy Kitchen Knife
Large Cooking Pot
1. Trim the tough stalk even with the bottom of the Artichoke to allow it to sit upright on the plate.
2. Cut or pull off the smaller bottom leaves around the base of the artichoke.
3. Cut the top 1/3 or so off of the artichoke to remove the sharp points from the tips of the leaves or, using kitchen shears, trim the tip off of each leaf to remove the sharp spike at the end of each leaf.
4. TO BOIL: Place the trimmed artichokes in slightly salted water to boil, along with the halves of one lemon, and boil until the bottoms of the artichokes are tender when pierced with a fork, usually 20 to 30 minutes.
TO STEAM: Rub the artichokes with the lemon halves to help keep the leaves from darkening, and place in a steamer basket with the leaves facing up. To impart more flavor, you can add a few slices of lemon or freshly squeezed lemon juice to the water in the steamer during cooking. The artichokes will be done when the bottom is tender when pierced with a fork, which is usually 25 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the artichokes.
TO SERVE: Scoop the artichokes out of the water and place in a colander to drain upside down. Place the artichokes onto the serving plate, leaves facing up, to serve.
TO EAT: Remove the leaves one at a time, dip in drawn (or melted) butter and scrape the fleshy part of the bottom of the leaves between your teeth. After you have eaten all of the leaves, remove the hairy portion of the artichoke center, called the Choke, and discard. The heart of the artichoke is the best part to eat, slicing it into quarters and dipping, if desired into the butter, or olive oil.
1. Prepare the artichokes as outlined above and then gently pull the leaves away from the center to open up the "flower" of the artichoke.
2. The purple tipped inner leaves should be removed, along with the choke, by scraping the choke out of the artichoke with the end of a strong spoon and discard. The choke should be completely, exposing the heart of the artichoke. Once all of the choke has been removed down to the heart of the artichoke, the vegetable is now ready for stuffing. Follow individual recipes for specific stuffing recipes and cooking times.
FULLY EDIBLE ARTICHOKE:
The larger the artichoke, the more you will need to prepare them for being completely edible.
1. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice into a bowl large enough to dip the whole artichokes in, keeping the halves handy for rubbing the cut surfaces of the artichoke leaves to prevent discoloration.
2. Trim the tough, woody base and stem off of the artichoke and rub with the lemon half.
3. Trim with the shears or pull to remove all of the leaves until you reach the inner layer of leaves that are completely yellow, almost to the tip.
4. Trim the top third of the artichoke leaves with a sturdy kitchen knife and dip in the lemon water to prevent darkening.
5. Remove the purple inner leaves and the choke from the artichokes and cut through the heart to quarter. Check to make sure that you have removed all of the inedible purple leaves and the choke. If there are any left on the artichoke, remove and dip the quarters into the lemon water.
6. The artichokes are now ready to steam or boil as is, or sliced or chopped in any recipe requiring artichokes.
Freezing Artichokes is the most popular and most effective way of preserving artichokes. The delicate flavor is not lost when frozen, but, the artichokes should be used within 8 months or so to assure the best flavor.
Suitable Freezer Containers
Large Pot for Blanching Artichokes
Large Slotted Spoon
1. Prepare the artichokes by trimming the leaf tips by either cutting the top 1/3 of the artichoke or by using kitchen shears to cut the tips off of the leaves and cutting into quarters lengthwise, removing the tough stems and the chokes. As each one is prepared, place the pieces into the lemon water (1 lemon to 2 quarts of water) to prevent the freshly cut surfaces from turning dark.
2. Blanch the quarters by either steaming them over boiling lemon water or boiling the quarters directly in lemon water for two to five minutes, depending on how large the Artichokes are.
3. Remove with the slotted spoon to the colander to drain.
4. Place the warm, not hot, artichoke quarters into the freezer containers, packing snugly, trying to keep the quarters closely together to remove as many air pockets as possible, but not crushing the pieces.
5. Top with lemon water and seal the freezer container.
6. Label and date the container and place in the freezer.
Be careful to not place too many containers to be frozen into the
freezer at one time, as that will lower the temperature in the freezer, jeopardizing the integrity of the contents.
Remove the container from the freezer and allow to thaw in the refrigerator. Use by steaming for five minutes, or until tender, over boiling water or boiling directly in water. Use as required in your specific recipe.
Suitable Sealer Bag Material
Large Cooking Pot for Blanching
Large Slotted Spoon
1. Prepare the artichokes by trimming the leaf tips by either cutting the top 1/3 of the artichoke or by using kitchen shears to cut the tips off of the leaves and cutting into quarters or halves lengthwise, removing the tough stems and the chokes. As each one is prepared, place the pieces into the lemon water (1 lemon to 2 quarts of water) to prevent the freshly cut surfaces from turning dark.
2. Blanch the quarters by either steaming them over boiling lemon water or boiling the quarters or halves directly in lemon water for two to five minutes, depending on how large the Artichokes are.
3. Remove with the slotted spoon to the colander to drain and cool slightly.
4. Prepare the vacuum sealer bag by cutting off a section large enough to contain the artichoke sections and sealing one end to form the bottom of the bag. Remember to allow 1 1/2" to 2" for the seals.
5. Label the bag with the contents and the date prepared.
6. Place the quarters or halves into the bag, keeping them closely bunched together to avoid air pockets and seal the loose end in the sealer. Make sure that the seal is complete. If you release the sealer and air seeps back into the bag, the seal was not successful. Reseal by trimming off the bad seal and re-inserting the open end of the bag into the sealer.