Why not indulge in the delicious ritual that is preparing and eating an artichoke? Even though they are a behemoth flower of a rather mean-looking thistle, artichokes are a powerhouse of distinct flavor and abundant nutrition.
Here are some highlights of their nutritional value:
- 5-15 grams of fiber per choke. That's up 50% of the fiber you need daily!
- Up to 45 mg omega 3's, and about 120 mg omega 6's. Cool, right?
- Up to 107 g folate, a micronutrient essential to blood production and an especially important nutrient for women.
- 557 mg lutein and beta carotene, which both benefit your eyes.
Enough about the nutrition though.
How does one cook a giant flower?
Due to the extraordinary amount of fiber present, this veggie takes quite while to cook. Steaming is, by far, our favorite method. It cooks the choke evenly and preserves the most nutrition. Poaching is good too but it's slower. Baking and grilling are tough because the artichoke can dry out so easily.
Best Practices for Cooking Artichokes
- Cut off the stem so the artichoke sits evenly on its base. Place in a steaming basket. Use a large stockpot.
- Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Herbs, garlic salt, and lemon zest are nice too! Drop a whole clove of garlic into the water.
- Steam over a medium boil for 45-60 minutes.
Downside: Fill the pot. Don't let the water boil out, or you'll end up with a ruined mess.
- Place the artichoke into a 1-2 inch deep pool of water in a pot with a heavy lid.
- Season as per above. Add a lemon wedge to the water.
- Poach for 45-60 minutes, check part way through to make sure the liquid has not evaporated out.
Downside: You can destroy your pot if the water cooks out! So fill it full enough and watch carefully, especially if you live in an arid environment.
- This is the method to use if stuffing. Roast whole or slice them in half. You can removed the inner bits now or when you eat.
- Bake in a pan covered tightly with foil in a 350 F degree oven. Make sure there is some sort of liquid in the pan.
- See episode #37 of Hot Kitchen for a killer stuffed artichoke recipe.
- Or, trim off the petals, scoop/carve out the insides to reveal the heart, season generously, add a thin layer of water, stock, or wine to the pan, and then cover tightly with foil to roast.
Downside: This method can take a long time, and the artichokes can come out dry if you overcook or fail to keep them hydrated while cooking.
- Slice the chokes in half. Blanch for 15 minutes in seasoned water. Transfer to grill, brush generously with oil.
- Cook over indirect heat, and finish with a bit of flame to char.
- Keep a spray bottle handy so you can keep the choke moist as it grills.
Downside: Tends to dry out quickly.
How to Prep:
Rinse them really, really well with lukewarm water. Buy organic when possible. Occasionally, I'll taste something bitter on my finger after preparing artichokes. I don't know what it is, but it can't be good. Clean them well.
Use lemon to enhance the flavor and expedite cooking. Expect an hour or more for cooking time; keep them moist while cooking.
How to Eat:
Pull the petals from the flower. Dunk in drawn butter or zesty aioli. Turn the petal so the inside is facing the ceiling then sink your teeth in about halfway up. Draw the petal away from your lips to scrape the inside of the petal with your teeth.
Scrape all the petals until you have reached the flimsy, pokey, hairy layer deep within. Scoop out the thin petals and hair with a spoon and savor the luscious heart.
How to buy:
Purchase whole artichokes that have a firm texture and no signs of pest activity. Look for thick stems; these indicate well-developed hearts. Weigh them against each other and choose the heaviest ones. Don't worry if the petals look a little rough.
If you just need artichoke hearts, your options are either canned or marinated hearts. Preparing homemade preserved artichoke hearts is a pain! You need a lot of artichokes to make one can. For that reason, canned hearts are one of the few canned foods we buy.
Canned hearts cost $3-$6 each and are perfect to stir into pastas, put on pizzas, chop into dips, etc. These tend to be the most nutritive and versatile option because they are lightly salted but not flavored with herbs and garlic.
Marinated hearts are more expensive and best served with an antipasti or perhaps on a salad because they have been soaking in a vinegar-based brine for some time, Check the ingredient list and only buy prepared chokes with a short list of recognizable ingredients. Buy organic whenever possible.
Hot Kitchen Episodes Featuring Artichokes:
- Episode #15-Mini Pizzas (Marinated Hearts)
- Episode #37-Italian-Style Stuffed Artichokes (Whole, Baked)
- Episode #40-Black and Bleu Filet Mignon (Hearts)
- Episode #53-Artichoke Chicken (Hearts)
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