A is for Artichoke

A is for Artichoke

Upon scouring the pages of Jack Bishop’s Vegetables Every Day over the past few weeks, I have learned a ton about produce — when certain vegetables are in season, how to pick good ones, best storage methods and the like.

While I risk re-capping some well-known facts about various vegetables, I plan on slowly blogging through the produce section – using books like Bishop’s, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and other great reads – to either reinforce the basics or teach you noobs, like myself, a thing or two.

A is for Artichoke

In true alphabetical fashion, we’ll start with “A” – as in artichoke.

Nutritional low-down

Artichokes are a waist watcher’s best pal, as they pack a low caloric punch while vamping up other nutritional gains. Based on a medium-sized artichoke, here’s the skinny:

  • Potassium – One medium artichoke provides more than 400 milligrams of potassium, about as much as a small banana.
  • Fiber – Very fiber-rich, artichokes providing just shy of half, or a third depending on who you are, of our daily fiber requirement 10.3 grams in one artichoke.
    • USDA recommends men consume 30-38 g of fiber per day, meanwhile women should consume 21-25 g each day.
  • Vitamin C – Average artichokes contain 15 mg of vitamin c a piece, which chips away at the loosely estimated 60 mg advised daily intake amount for adults.

 Tis the season

Like most things, you can score an artichoke all year round; however, they’re most plentiful and economic in the spring (although they’ll trickle into summer and have a late surge from California’s crops in the early fall).

Picking a good one

  • The test: Bishop says that a tightly closed, heavy artichoke is fresher than one that feels fairly light and its leaves are opened up.

    Also, bend back an outer leaf:

    • If the leaf snaps off, the artichoke is fresh.
    • If the leaf bends all the way back, the artichoke is older.
  • Color: Green, with no brown or yellow spots.

  • Does size matter? Yes! Artichokes come in a variety of sizes; therefore, when picking out a good one, remember that because these bad boys require some intensive cleaning, the size of your artichokes aren’t always worth the labor they require.
    • Small: while a teacup-sized artichoke might be irresistible in cuteness and overall require less cooking time, Bishop advises that cleaning more than a few of these teeny tiny germ mongers may grow tiresome quickly.
    • Medium (best): should roughly weigh 8 oz each — this is the ideal size because they offer a nice balance between size quality and ease of preparation.
    • Large: Bishop notes avoiding really large artichokes, as they tend to pack a woody taste.

Storage

In Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook, my girl Martha advises storing artichokes, unwashed, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

Preppin’ it

Although washing it is enough for this low maintenance gal, it does truly depend on how you’re using the artichoke in a recipe for with how you prepare it.

Here are the options that Bittman recommends in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian:

For a whole artichoke:

  1. Cut off the whole top third or so; sometimes using a large serrated knife will help you get through the tough leaves, but any heavy knife will do the job.
  2. Use a paring knife to peel around the base and cut off the bottom 1/4 inch.
  3. Pull off the toughest exterior leaves.
  4. To remove the choke (the fuzzy part) before cooking:

a. Half or quarter the artichoke and scrape it out or cut off the tops of the leaves
b. Pry open the central leaves
c. Pull and then scrape out the choke with a spoon.

For artichoke hearts:

  1. Cut off as much of the tops of the leaves as possible or halve the artichoke length-wise.
  2. Use a paring knife to trim and peel the base.
  3. Scrape out the choke with a spoon.

Cooking methods

  • Braised – baby artichokes and hearts 
  • Baked
  • Grilled
  • Steamed – best for whole artichokes
  • Roasted
  • Sauteed – best for baby artichokes and hearts
  • Fried – best for whole artichokes (saw this on Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie, “Italy – Homecooking”

To re-cap

Unless you’re from California, you want to kick your artichoke taste buds into gear come springtime and aim for those medium-sized bulbs of caloric-friendly perfection.