While they are available year round, artichokes become just a little more special in the spring when they are in season March through May. We take full advantage and love to enjoy them steamed, alongside a crudité platter and dipped in aioli. It’s a truly delicious treat!
These edible, thistle-like “vegetables” are really the flower buds of a large, thistle-family plant. The buds grown on stalks, where each stalk has a primary bud at its tip and two or three smaller buds lower down. Below those buds are even smaller buds, which are often marketed as baby or cocktail artichokes and used mostly for canning.
Ranging in size from jumbo (try these stuffed with fresh herbs, breadcrumbs and sausage) to baby (delicious sautéed, fried roasted or marinated) they can be used in a variety of ways.
When purchasing artichokes, look for leaves that squeak when they are pressed together. They should have a tight leaf formation, a deep, green color and be heavy for their size. Always avoid artichokes that appear to be dry or have split leaves and heavy browning as they are not fresh, and try to use them the day of purchase. Otherwise, store unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
A general rule of thumb is that the smaller the artichoke, the more tender it will be once cooked. The rounder the artichoke, the larger its heart. Pick accordingly to how you prefer to use your artichokes.
Artichokes get a bad reputation for being “intimidating” to prepare, but if you follow the right steps, it’s a breeze!
- Wash artichokes just before cooking and slice off the stem to form a flat base.
- Snap off any of the tough, outer leaves that are closest to the stem.
- Trim about ½ inch of the pointed top and use kitchen scissors to snip off the prickly tips of the outer leaves.
- Be sure to rub all cut edges with lemon to prevent discoloration.
To cook, use a stainless steel, glass or enamelware pot to prevent discoloration and any off-flavors that might occur. Place trimmed artichokes in a steaming basket in the pot over several inches of boiling water. Cover pot with a lid, reduce heat to a simmer and cook 25-45 minutes. Test artichokes for doneness by piercing with a knife tip into the stem area or pulling on the leaves (they should come off easily). Make sure you check the water level in the pot as you may have to add more during the cooking process.
To eat a whole, cooked artichoke, break each leaf off one by one and draw the base of the leaf through your teeth to remove the soft portion. The rest of the leaf can be discarded. Once all the leaves are removed, the prickly choke can be cut or scraped away so that they tender base of the heart can be enjoyed.