At the Chef’s Garden @ Epicurean, one of our favourite spring vegetables are globe artichokes, belonging to the same family as thistles, they considered by many to be a delicacy, and like asparagus are a true spring vegetable.
Not to be confused with the tuber, Jerusalem artichoke, which we also grow, it is the leaves and base of the bud of this plant that is edible.
Containing the sweet-tasting chemical cynarin, the taste of globe artichokes is unique and sweetens the flavour of the next thing you eat or drink – which tends to give wine a rather nasty sweet flavour, hence why you may have heard not to drink wine when eating artichokes.
For those unfamiliar with this vegetable it can be somewhat challenging, but once mastered converts look forward to spring so they can feast on this one-of-a-kind vegetable. Hopefully, the notes below will put you on the path to being able to fully enjoy this treat of spring.
Availability: Spring – as the season progresses supplies become abundant.
Goes with: anchovies; asparagus; butter; celery; chicken; fennel; garlic; ham; lamb; lemons; mushrooms; olive oil; onions; parmesan cheese; parsley; peas; rosemary; scallops; thyme; and tomatoes.
SELECTION, STORAGE, PREPARATION & USING
Selection: Look for heavy artichokes with tightly packed, closed leaves, avoid flowers that are mouldy or have wilted leaves.
Storage: Do not wash artichokes before storing. While best if used within a couple of days of harvest artichokes will keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week – a few drops of water sprinkled over before storing will help prevent them from drying out.
Preparation: Allow one to two, small to medium globe artichokes per person. Combine 2L water and ¼ cup lemon juice in a bowl and set aside. Working with one artichoke at a time, bend back outer leaves until they snap off close to the base. Continue removing leaves until exposed leaves are pale green at the top and pale yellow at the base. Depending on the size of the artichokes and to avoid losing too many leaves you can trim the top of the artichoke to remove the tough tips of the leaves. Trim base of stem, leaving as much stem as possible intact then using a vegetable peeler, peel stem to remove rough outer layer. Cut artichoke lengthwise into quarters and remove any fuzzy centre (the choke). Place in the bowl of lemon water to prevent discolouration while preparing remaining artichokes. The artichokes are now ready to cook.
Adding lemon juice to the water will help prevent discolouration. Iron, copper or aluminium cookware may also cause discolouration so choose stainless steel, glass or enamel for preparation and cooking.
Using: Traditionally, the way to eat whole artichokes is to boil or steam them, the leaves are then pulled from the head and dipped into hollandaise sauce, melted butter or garlic butter. To eat, the leaf is drawn between your teeth to remove the tender flesh before discarding the rest.
Another way to enjoy artichokes is to stuff the head, pull out the central leaves, scoop out the choke and stuff with chopped garlic and parsley, grated parmesan and breadcrumbs before drizzling with olive oil and baking in the oven.
They are also delicious barbecued or grilled – cut in half lengthways, remove the choke, brush with olive oil and cook on barbecue grill for 30 minutes or until tender.
Probably the easiest cooking method for artichokes is braising – either whole, halved or quartered.
Easiest Braised Artichokes Ever: Prepare six small to medium artichokes as described above. Place 2 cups stock, 1 cup dry white wine or water, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 small sliced onion, 1 clove crushed garlic, 3 sprigs thyme and 1 sprig rosemary in a saucepan over a medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Add artichokes, bring back to simmering and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until artichokes are tender – exact cooking time will depend on the size of the artichokes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of iced water. Drain well before using.
SOME SERVING IDEAS FOR BRAISED ARTICHOKES
- Serve on a platter with garlic aioli for dipping.
- Combine ¼ cup lemon juice, ½ cup olive oil, 1 sprig fresh rosemary, 2 sprigs fresh thyme in a bowl. Add warm, cooked artichokes. Cover, marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serve as part of an antipasto platter.
- Pan-fry in a little butter and oil and serve as a side dish – especially good with fish, lamb and chicken.
- Make an artichoke pate – strain the cooking broth and reserve. Place artichokes, 1 tbsp olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste in a food processor. Add a little of the cooking broth and process until smooth – continue adding cooking broth until you have pate of desired consistency. Add lemon juice to taste.
- Don’t throw away the cooking broth – it’s too delicious. Add to soup or use instead of milk when mashing potatoes.