Artichokes

I ate artichokes growing up in rural America…and I liked it.

Artichokes are not the most popular food for kids. Perhaps it’s because they are not available or parents simply do not know how to prepare them. And then there’s the whole bitter thing going on which is definitely unpopular with kids and adults alike. Fortunately, my mother knew how to cook those giant globe artichokes…and she knew we would devour them if there was plenty of mayonnaise nearby so we could dip those leaf tips into it and scrape off the edible flesh. She was right!

Years later, I moved to California – the artichoke capital of America. But there was really only one variety grown, which was quite tasty. It was in California where I realized there were other ways to enjoy this vegetable. I ate deep-fried artichokes – similar to the famous Roman style (Carciofi alla giudia, an old Jewish relic still popular in Rome), braised artichokes and roasted artichoke hearts. My eyes were now open to the wonders of the artichoke.

When I arrived in Europe to cook professionally, I was pleased to discover the many different varieties of artichokes found mostly in Italy and France. Suddenly, I had access to artichokes – lots of them – from December to May.

Perspective
Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean part of Europe. It is actually a thistle, which can bloom into beautiful purple flowers. The exact origin is unknown, but it is common knowledge they have been cultivated in Italy for 2,000 years and played an important role in the diets of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Fun Fact: Artichokes possess a unique organic acid called Cynarin. This acid can affect the sweetness receptors in taste buds and once washed away in the mouth with a bit of food or a drink, the sweet receptors immediately wake up and become hyperactive for a few seconds. This brief hyperactivity of the sweet receptors causes anything you put into your mouth to taste sweet.

Season
Artichokes produce two crops per year, the first beginning in the winter and lasting throughout most of the Spring months (November-May) and then again in the late summer (August and September). The spring or first harvest is always the best, with February-April being the optimal time for purchase…at least if you are living in the Northern Hemisphere. Most Southern Hemisphere artichokes are limited to the globe variety and become available during the Spring months.

Purchasing Tips
A good quality artichoke can be tricky to buy. Because they are technically a flower, you should think in these terms. The leaf formation should be very tight on fresh artichokes. The looser they are, the older they will be and the closer they come to actually blooming. Another thing to check is the color. Heavy browning indicates over-ripeness, so avoid purchasing these artichokes. Examine the stem end of the artichoke – they should not be wilted in any way which would indicate age and long exposure to storage. You can also press the bottom of the artichoke to see if there is any sign of decay or softness. Frost damage can occur during the early spring months – this will cause discoloration of the leaves, but it won’t affect the flavor.

It’s always a good idea to cook artichokes the same day they were purchased, but they can also be refrigerated for 3-4 days. Be sure to leave them uncovered to avoid molding.

Be sure to check out the my tips below on some ideas of how to cook artichokes.

Not sure how to prepare an artichoke? No problem – get started here: How to Prepare an Artichoke

Nutritional Info
Artichokes are a very good source of dietary fiber, very low in saturated fat and cholesterol. They are also a good source of Niacin, Vitamin B6, Iron and Phosphorus, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Jack’s Fresh Tip

Try artichokes raw – shave artichoke hearts very thin and add to salad or toss with citrus fruits

Larger artichokes are best steamed, boiled, stuffed or baked

Smaller artichokes are best sliced and then sautéed or roasted

Always rub with lemon juice after cutting artichokes to prevent discoloration

Never cook artichokes in aluminum pans or on aluminum foil as both will cause discoloration

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