Looking like the vegetable version of a pinecone, I wonder what brave soul first figured out that the prickly artichoke was good to eat. Served warm, room temperature or chilled, I often put a platter out for guests hanging out in the kitchen to snack on as I finish cooking dinner. When the leaves are gone and the fuzzy choke is removed, a prize awaits – the artichoke heart. Slice and devour.
Spring- Peak Artichoke Season
I remember my first artichoke as a kid. A neighbor brought this strange vegetable over, ready to eat. She taught us how to snap off a leaf and pull the inside of the leaf across your teeth to scrap off the meaty part. With an earthy, nutty flavor, I’ve been a fan ever since.
While artichokes are available almost year round, spring is their peak season. I like to boil or steam them and serve with a quick mayonnaise-based lemon garlic dipping sauce.
How to Buy Artichokes
Fresh artichokes should be compact, plump and feel heavy for their size. If the artichoke squeaks when squeezed, it’s fresh. The leaves should be green and tightly closed. If the leaves (called bracts) are brown and splitting, the artichoke is most likely past its prime.
The exception to this is winter harvest artichokes. They may have light brown scaling on the leaves due to frostbite. Although not as pretty, they still taste good.
After boiling or steaming, pluck the hot artichokes out of the pan with tongs, drain, and place on a platter for serving. For extra flavor and presentation, try finishing them on the grill.
Split the artichokes in half from top to bottom, remove the fuzzy choke, brush with a little olive oil and place on the grill for a few minutes until a lightly charred. Grilling gives them a lightly smokey flavor.
After grilling, cut the artichoke halves in two for easier to eat quarters size pieces. Have an empty bowl handy to toss discarded leaves into.
A versatile vegetable, artichokes can be served as an appetizer, snack, salad, or as part of a main course. Pack them up for a picnic or tailgate. Use them for lunch and stuff with chicken, crab or tuna salad. Recipes abound for ways to use the green globes, so enjoy them while they are at peak season and throughout the year.
Artichokes with Lemon Garlic Dipping Sauce
- 2 large fresh artichokes
- 1 large lemon, cut in quarters
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 6 black peppercorns
- Sprinkle of kosher salt
- 2 fresh thyme sprigs
- 2-3 fresh whole garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Prepare artichoke for cooking
To prepare whole artichokes, cut the top one third off with a serrated knife. The teeth of a serrated knife make it easier to cut through the tough exterior. Discard the trimmings.
Trim the bottom stem flush with the base. Next, trim off the prickly point of each leaf with a pair of kitchen scissors. Rub a cut lemon over the artichoke to prevent it from turning brown.
How to cook an artichoke
- In a deep pan wide enough to hold artichokes, place trimmed artichokes stem side up in the bottom of the pan (or place on a steamer rack). Fill pan with a few inches of cold water. Squeeze lemon juice over the artichokes and put rinds in the pan. Drizzle in olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, add bay leaf, black peppercorns, thyme sprigs and garlic.
- Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and bring to a boil. When steam starts coming out of the pan, turn the heat down to low and cook artichokes until you can pierce the center of the stem with a paring knife. The timing will depend on the size of the artichokes. For big ones test at 20-25 minutes and continue if needed for a few minutes. Another way to tell when an artichoke is ready is to pull off and outer leaf. It should come off easily.
- Remove the artichokes from the pan and drain on a towel. At this point, you can arrange the artichokes on a platter and serve them hot, at room temperature or chilled.
To finish by grilling, split the artichokes in half from top to bottom, remove the fuzzy choke, brush with a little olive oil and place on the grill for a few minutes until a little charred. This enhances the earthy, nutty flavor and makes for a great presentation.
Serve with lemon garlic dipping sauce, recipe below
Lemon Garlic Dipping Sauce
- 1/2 cup of your favorite reduced fat mayonnaise, (I like Veganaise)
- 1 large garlic clove, pressed or finely minced
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 teaspoons fresh chopped parsley or chives for color and flavor, as you prefer
- Combine all ingredients and stir until smooth. Can be made ahead of time, covered and refrigerated until serving time.
Other links you might enjoy on artichoke recipes and information:
The annual Artichoke Festival is in May in Castroville, California, the self-proclaimed artichoke capital of the world.
Link to the California Artichoke Advisory Board
A variety of recipes using artichokes, at Simply Recipes
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