The artichoke is one of the oldest known foods to man. Theophrastun, an ancient Greek philosopher naturalist wrote them being grown in Italy and Sicily in 317-287 BC. The Greeks and Roman held the artichoke in high esteem. During the middle ages, it was considered to be an aphrodisiac. The word artichoke comes from the medieval Arabic word kharshuf. “Artichoke" is derived from the northern Italian word "articiocco," referring to its pine cone shape.
The Syrians consider the artichoke and the eggplant, the noblest of vegetables. The artichoke was introduced into America by the Italians near Half Moon Bay in California around 1900. Today Castroville, California is the artichoke capital of the world and is the center of all commercial production for the United States. Artichokes are picked by hand- and then packed immediately. Labor costs are responsible for 40-60% of the costs of the vegetable.
The artichoke is the flower bud of a thistle plant known as ‘ayhara scolymus’, and contains elongated stems. It is 3-5 feet long, and has indented leaves. We eat the bud of the plant. The plant spreads to about 6 feet in diameter and about 3 to 4 feet high. It has long arching leaves that give the plant a fern-like appearance. It is closely related to the cardoon. In the center of the flower bud there is a fuzzy area, known as the choke. It is inedible. The choke protects the meatiest portion of the bud, the heart. The stem of the artichoke is also edible. It is very similar in taste and texture to the heart- but usually needs to be peeled first. A typical 12 ounce artichoke has an edible portion of about 2 ounces.
Today, there are over a dozen varieties of artichokes. Common varieties include Green Globe, Imperial Star, Big Heart, Provencal and Desert Globe. Only the small purple Provencal may be eaten raw.
Baby artichokes weigh 2-3ounces each. Use these for appetizers, casseroles, and in sautés. Young/ immature artichokes are crisp and dense. Medium artichokes weigh 8-10 ounces each. Use these with a dip, or stuffed. Large artichokes weigh 15-20 ounces. each. Use these with a dip. Choose artichokes that are compact and heavy for their size. When cutting artichokes, especially raw ones, keep them in acidulated water to keep them from turning brown.
Artichokes have an enzyme in them called cynarin. This enzyme has a reaction with wine- making it taste sweet (like saccharin). Pairing wines with artichokes therefore is difficult. One way to overcome this challenge is to use wine with the cooking of the artichoke. It helps to counterbalance the reaction when drinking wine with artichokes later.
Artichokes are best prepared steamed, boiled, braised or microwaved. They need a moist heat cooking preparation. From there- grilling or sautéing will work. Artichokes will oxidize once cut. They need to be rubbed with lemon juice or put into acidulated water to prevent browning.
Artichokes come into season March, April, and May. Late in the season, the heart starts getting “chokey” and starts to open. This means it is overripe. They contain fiber, vitamin C, foliate, Magnesium, chromium, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, iron, and calcium, and are fat free.
pepper, esp. black and red
© 2012 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger All rights reserved
Cite me: Denlinger, J. (2012, March 22). Artichokes. Retrieved from: FloridaChef.net