Artichokes…we’ve seen them in the supermarkets as a fresh vegetable. However, we most commonly find them in a can or jar, used as a pizza topping or in a pasta dish, and probably have enjoyed them prepared in a bubbling hot dip mixed with spinach and cheese. The heirloom variety we are growing is called “Tavor” which produces nearly thornless buds. A member of the thistle family, this vegetable dates back thousands of years and were considered an aphrodisiac in the 16th century. The artichoke is referenced in Greek mythology as a sensuous vegetable favored by the gods. Thought to have originated in the Mediterranean and domesticated in Sicily, most artichokes you find in the stores these days are grown in California. They are nutritional powerhouses in their ability to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, maintain digestive health, protect the liver and also act as cancer protectants and fighters (especially prostate, breast and leukemia).High in fiber, low in calories, and containing folate, potassium, magnesium and Vitamin C, the leaves can be used to make a digestive tea, useful in the treatment for gas and bloating.
So how do we prepare these green globes of goodness? Well, I enjoy them many ways but I’ll share one of my favorites. I like to first braise (poach) them in a liquid heavily flavored with white wine, lemon juice and aromatic herbs such as thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Start by cleaning some of the outer leaves that need to be removed by gently pulling them off the bud and peeling the stem slightly with a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife. Next, cut a ½ inch off the top, slightly exposing the center purplish thistles. Be sure to rub them all over with a halved lemon after cleaning each one and keep them in concentrated lemon water so they do not discolor before being prepared. Then sauté some chopped carrots, onions, celery, and garlic in EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) until slightly caramelized. Add the artichokes and herbs, continue cooking a few minutes, then pour some white wine to taste. Add the lemony water they were held in to the pot, as well as a sprinkle of salt if desired, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover with a parchment circle (that is, simply a circle cut from a sheet of parchment with a hole in the middle to allow venting while they are braising). This will make sure they remain moist on top and help them stay under the liquid as they cook. They are ready when the tip of a small paring knife can easily go through the stem. Cool them in this liquid so they absorb all those flavors. Once cooled, take a small spoon to remove the thistly center.
They can now be eaten just like this, or cut up and marinated in some vinaigrette to be used as antipasti or added to salads. I like to take it one step further; I cut them in 1/4th or 1/6ths, depending on size, and coat them with egg and breadcrumbs (Japanese panko crumbs are great here but any kind will do) which has some grated parmesan cheese and chopped parsley added. Prepare by either baking at 375F for a lower calorie option, or pan fry in olive oil until golden brown. Should you choose to bake, Pam spray them lightly or drizzle with some EVOO before baking. Hope you enjoy this wonderful vegetable as much as I do!