Monday, April 28, 2014

All About Artichokes

This post comes from my archives, I had previously posted it on my email newsletter and discovered I never posted it on the blog. It was written by my very talented sister. Chef Elisa is based in Denver, CO and is a caterer and personal chef.

I enjoyed my first artichoke of the Spring recently,and it got me thinking.  I grew up eating artichokes and I have fond memories of this unique little piece of produce, which is actually a thistle.   I remember savoring the ritual of dipping each leaf into Best Foods mayonnaise, scraping my teeth across it to enjoy that small bite of unique flavor.   And most importantly, the delicious heart that lies inside, a prize awarded for your patience in deconstructing the little globe one piece at a time.

I’ve encountered a lot of people who have never eaten a whole, fresh artichoke.  Many people have only eaten the hearts (usually from a can) in pasta and pizza.   But I think everyone should enjoy an artichoke, especially when they are at their peak in Spring.  If you have never tried one and are a little put off at the idea of having to pull your food apart leaf by leaf and scrape the “meat” off of it, you may be encouraged by the artichoke’s health properties.  In researching this article, I was pleasantly surprised to find that artichokes contain cynarin, which is a “phenolic acid compound… that stimulates digestion, protects the liver, and lowers triglycerides and cholesterol.”  So you can feel better about slathering those leaves with butter, mayonnaise or aioli knowing that the artichoke can naturally help your HDL/LDL ratio!

I think the artichoke is best simply steamed, but boiling also works well.  Wash it well, trim the end of the stem and snip off any thorny points on the leaves if you like.   Put a few inches of water in the bottom of your pot, put the artichokes in the steamer basket and in about 30 minutes (depending on the size and toughness of your artichoke) you will be ready to enjoy Spring’s bounty!  To determine if it is cooked, simply poke a fork into the stem at the base of the artichoke, it should be able to slide in and be removed easily.

Every once in a while I like to relive my childhood memories by enjoying an artichoke with just plain old mayonnaise.  It was good enough for me at 10 years old, and it is good enough now!  However, the chef in me really can’t be satisfied with plain mayo all the time.  Usually I like to dress up my mayo with some crushed fresh garlic and lots of lemon juice, usually called an aioli but I take a shortcut and use prepared mayo instead of making my own!  You could put practically anything into your mayo – how about some pesto to pay homage to the artichoke’s Italian roots, or some chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for a little spice.  If you’re ever feeling ambitious, try making a stuffing with breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and herbs, spoon a little between each leaf and then steam the artichoke until cooked through.  There are a number of simple recipes available on the website for the California Artichoke Advisory Board.

So the next time you’re perusing the produce at your grocery store, don’t be afraid to reach for one of those thistles and try something new. They’re delicious AND nutritious, and you might even get your little ones to eat them on account of how fun it is to play with your food!

Artichoke Recipes from the California Artichoke Advisory Board

Baked Artichokes Stuffed with Red Quinoa