Globe artichokes are a delicious delicacy among the vegetables. You can eat both the plant leaves and artichoke heart.
According to legend, the artichoke was created when the smitten Greek god Zeus turned his dearly beloved into a thistle after being rejected. His loss is our gain, because that thistle is now known as the artichoke.
The artichokes we eat are actually the buds of a purple flower that can grow more than 3 feet tall. When a whole artichoke is served, the leaves are pulled off one at a time, and the diner bites down on a leaf, scrapes it across his or her teeth, and eats the edible tip. After the leaves are removed and eaten, the artichoke heart can be harvested. Buried within the rough leaves of a globe artichoke, is the sweet and tender “heart.” The heart is the meaty part in the center. The bottom is covered with hair or fuzz (“choke”) that is scraped off, and then the fleshy heart can be consumed. These little treasures have a buttery texture. If the stem was left on, the inside of it also can be eaten. The stem is similar in flavor and texture to the heart.
Whole globe artichokes can be purchased fresh, and artichoke hearts are available frozen, canned in water, or jarred in olive oil and spices. The oil-packed ones are a little higher in healthy fat, but draining the oil will help save some calories.
Fresh artichokes can be expensive to buy and laborious to trim and cook. That’s what makes canned and frozen ones excellent alternatives when it isn’t practical to use fresh artichokes. It is much more time and cost efficient to use frozen or canned artichokes. One 9 oz. box frozen = one 8 oz. jar = one 14 oz. can = hearts from 6 fresh artichokes.
The key to using frozen hearts in most recipes is that they must be defrosted and drained of any excess moisture in advance, otherwise you risk adding excess water to the dish. Patting fully defrosted hearts with a paper towel, and giving each a gentle squeeze, will help. Once defrosted, frozen artichoke hearts have nearly the same texture as the canned but both are softer and more likely to fall apart than a fresh artichoke heart. This can affect the texture of the recipe to which you add them. Use them in pastas, vegetable sautés, and slow-cooked dishes like stews, casseroles, and gratins.
Canned artichokes are packed in water, salt, and citric acid to keep them from discoloring. They have a toothsome texture and tangy flavor. Canned artichoke hearts, as with any canned vegetable, should be gently rinsed with cool water to remove excess salt, and then left to drain completely, squeezing out any excess liquid with a paper towel. Use them in salads, antipasti, or any dish where a briny kick would be welcome.
Marinated artichoke hearts tend to be firmer and have a tangier flavor due to the marinade. Keep this in mind when adding them to a dish because they add more than just artichoke flavor. If it’s the first time you’re cooking with marinated hearts, taste one before adding it to your dish so you know how the flavor will be affected.
The most complimentary seasonings for an artichoke is olive oil, lemon, parsley, salt, and pepper. They also match well with aioli, anchovies, bacon, basil, bread crumbs, butter, goat cheese, chervil, cream, cumin, fennel, garlic, hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise, mushrooms, onions, Parmesan cheese, sausage, thyme, tomatoes, or vinaigrette.
A final point about artichokes’ flavor: regardless if fresh, canned, frozen, or marinated, artichokes have a chemical characteristic that causes our taste receptors to have an unfriendly reaction to wine so know that a sip of wine after a bite of artichoke is not a good pairing.
Artichokes boast tons of health benefits. They are nutritious, providing an excellent source of fiber, vitamin K, and folate, a very good source of vitamin C and magnesium, and a good source of manganese and potassium. Artichokes are an excellent source of many phytonutrients, including antioxidants, which work to help protect against many health risks. Artichoke hearts are low in fat and calories.
In 2004, the United States Department of Agriculture conducted its largest, most comprehensive study analyzing the antioxidant content of the most commonly consumed foods. To the surprise of many, artichokes ranked in the top four vegetables and seventh overall.
Try Your Hand At Artichokes
If you’re a beginner and intimidated by the look of a fresh artichoke, lucky for you, canned artichokes are easy to use in any recipe. For the more adventurous, fresh artichokes are a great companion to almost any meal. However, keep in mind that there’s an easy way to have this versatile and unexpected vegetable in our kitchens all year round.