The artichoke is a giant thistle flower bud. It is sometimes called the globe artichoke, or French artichoke to avoid confusion with the sunchoke, an entirely different plant sometimes called the "Jerusalem artichoke".
Unlike most vegetables, only a very small part of the artichoke is actually edible—the very bases of the "leaves" and the interior heart. The heart of the flower is topped with spiky bristles or hairs that are unpleasant to consume, and the leaves are extremely tough and fibrous.
|Seasonality tables|Autumn|Winter|Spring|Summer|All year|
Most species of artichoke have their peak season in spring, but some species produce all year round (with some having their peak in autumn), especially in locations closer to the equator. Artichokes harvested in the winter and spring will be globe-shaped, whereas artichokes harvested in the summer and fall will be more conical.
Selection and StorageEdit
High-quality artichokes are usually compact and heavy for their size. When squeezed, a fresh artichoke will make a squeak. The thickness of each stalk should correspond to the size of the artichoke. Thin stalks signal dehydration, so look for stalks that are firm without any give.
Artichokes remain fairly constant in appearance for weeks, but flavor is adversely affected from the moment they are cut from the stalk. For the best taste and tenderness, cook as soon as possible. Do not stock up on artichokes. Refrigerate unwashed, in a plastic bag, for up to 1 week.
Start by cutting the thorns off with kitchen scissors or simply take a kitchen knife and cut straight across the top part off the artichoke. This will leave a flat top on the artichoke. Note that "thorn-free" artichokes, besides having far less of the edible part, generally do have little hidden thorns that are hard to remove.
Artichokes should be very well cooked. This is required to soften them enough to eat. Make sure to check the water level as the artichoke will absorb water as it softens. Add more water if they are still not tender and continue to cook. Unlike most vegetables, artichokes should be cooked until they are a darker color green than when they were fresh.
Artichokes may be boiled, microwaved, steamed, or pressure cooked, although steaming is best. When steaming, spread the leaves a bit and place the artichokes stem-end-up to ensure that plenty of steam gets to the inside. Microwaving is essentially steaming; cover the artichokes and add a bit of water.
You may want to stuff the artichokes prior to cooking. They can be stuffed with ground beef, rice, or anything you prefer.
After cooking, the large leathery "leaves" are pulled off one by one, and their soft, inner basal part is dipped in some kind of sauce like a mayonnaise or vinaigrette. The soft portion is then scraped off with the teeth, and the rest of the tough leaf is discarded. The softest inner leaves can be eaten in their entirety.
Finally, an irritating fur-like layer of thistle is exposed. This layer can be pulled out, scraped out, scooped out, or cut out. It is generally best to scrape the thistle away with a sideways motion of a dull table knife (a butter knife). If this process is difficult, it is likely that the artichoke was not cooked enough.
The remaining part, minus any stem still attached, is the artichoke heart. This is often considered the best part of the artichoke. Dip it in sauce and eat it.