October Produce Spotlight: Artichokes
October 14, 2011
This month’s produce spotlight is on artichokes, one of the world’s oldest known vegetables. The first globe artichoke is said to have been cultivated in Naples, Italy in the 9th century and to this day, Italy is one of the main exporters of artichokes. Artichokes have two peak seasons, the first in spring and the second in mid autumn. This vegetable from the thistle family is an excellent source of fiber, magnesium and Vitamin C.
I was lucky enough to grow up eating artichokes; in fact, they were one of my favorite foods as a kid. I remember helping my dad prepare them from a young age and learning his recipe. I have to admit, the reason I probably loved them so much was because they were stuffed with cheese and breadcrumbs . . . who wouldn’t love that?
I still love my dad’s stuffed artichokes, but I like to enjoy them only on special occasions now. I have since come across many lighter artichoke recipes, such as steamed artichokes with a lemon dipping sauce, but my favorite is artichokes cooked in tomato sauce.
The cooking process for artichokes is very easy. The most time-consuming aspect is the preparation, but it is worth it.
When you are picking your artichokes, you want to look for ones with tight leaves and a nice green color. Before you can begin cooking your artichokes, you need to snip the sharp tips of the leaves off. I do this with a pair of scissors. It may take a little bit of time, but it is necessary because the tips are very sharp and unpleasant! Once you finish removing the tips, run the artichokes under water and open the leaves with your fingers to help loosen the vegetable. The final step you want to take before you start cooking the artichokes is to cut the long stem at the bottom. I usually leave about ½ an inch so the artichoke has something to rest on as it cooks, but you don’t want a long stem.
To begin cooking, you will need a slow cooker or a large deep pot. For this recipe, you can use your favorite jarred sauce, or homemade sauce, with a little bit of added water. Pour the sauce and water in the bottom of the pot so it is about one to two inches deep. Then place your artichokes in the sauce. Drizzle a little olive oil over the artichokes, cover with a lid and cook on low heat for 6-8 hours. The artichokes can be cooked in as little as 45 minutes, but are the most tender when they have been cooked on low heat over a period of hours.
When the artichokes are done, serve them with a side of the tomato sauce for dipping. To eat, pull individual leaves off the artichoke and dip the fleshy end in the sauce. You do not want to take a bite out of the leaf, but simply scrape the flesh off with your teeth. You can eat most of the leaves on the whole artichoke, but the closer you get to the center, the thinner the leaves will get. Once you have reached the thinner leaves, you can remove them along with the mossy-looking part (known as the choke) that protects the heart. The heart is at the very bottom and is very delicious! To eat the heart, cut it up and dip it in the sauce.
One good-sized artichoke can be split between two people as an appetizer or eaten by one person as a delicious snack!
Plus: Click here to see another delicious artichoke recipe!