September 26, 2017
How to Choose and Use Artichokes

How to Choose and Use Artichokes

by Berkeley Wellness  |  

Whatever its size or shape, an artichoke should be compact and heavy for its size. Artichoke leaves should be fleshy, thick, firm, and tightly closed. If the leaves look dry and woody, or have begun to spread apart, the artichoke is past its prime.

If you’re not sure about the freshness of an artichoke, squeeze it. You’ll hear a squeaky sound if the leaves are still plump and crisp.

Check the stem end for tiny holes. These are signs of worm damage, which will probably be even more extensive inside the artichoke.

Artichokes are harvested year round. The crop peaks in the spring—March through May—and again, to a lesser extent, in October. Spring artichokes should be a soft green. Those picked in the fall and winter tend to be olive green and may have bronze-tipped leaves or a slightly blistered, whitish outer surface. This “winter-kissed” effect, as it is called by the growers, is the result of exposure to a light frost in the fields. It does not affect the taste or tenderness of the artichoke. However, don’t confuse blackened or wilted leaves, or dark bruised spots, with the normal bronzing of frost-touched artichokes.

How to store artichokes

Although artichokes appear hardy, they are quite perishable. Store artichokes in the refrigerator, in a plastic bag, for no more than four or five days. Do not rinse or trim the artichokes before storing, as this could cause them to become moldy.

How to prepare artichokes

Wash each artichoke under cold running water. Cut off the top inch of the artichoke, which consists of inedible leaf tips, with a large, sharp knife. Clip the sharp tips off the remaining outer leaves using kitchen shears. Pull off any short, coarse leaves from the bottom and cut off about 1 inch of the tough stem.

With a paring knife, peel the remaining stem. Don’t cut an artichoke with a carbon-steel knife as it will turn the cut parts black. Rub the cut parts with lemon juice to keep them from darkening or drop the prepared artichoke into a bowl of cold lemon water. This process is referred to as “acidulated water” in recipes.

For small or baby artichokes, cut off the stems as well as the top parts of the leaves. Remove the outer leaves by bending them back until they snap (the meaty portion will remain attached). Stop when you reach the inner, pale green leaves. Pare the outer layers from the artichoke bottoms. Halve each vegetable lengthwise, scoop out the thin center petals, then slice the artichoke halves lengthwise.

Some recipes for stuffed artichokes call for the choke to be removed to form a “cup” for stuffing. To make artichoke cups, prepare the vegetable as for serving whole, but instead, cut the stem flush with the base so the artichoke will sit upright when you serve it. Boil, steam, or microwave, then let stand until cool enough to handle. Spread the outer leaves apart with your fingers, pull out the petals covering the choke, and then use a teaspoon to scrape out the choke. The artichoke can be stuffed and served as is, or baked.

Some recipes require only artichoke bottoms, though recipes usually refer to them as “hearts.” To prepare artichoke bottoms, prepare and cook a whole artichoke. Remove all the leaves from the cooked artichoke. (You can eat them separately or scrape off the flesh from the base of each leaf to incorporate in the dish.) Discard the thin petals covering the choke, then scrape off the choke with a paring knife. Trim around the bottom with a knife to neaten it.

To eat an artichoke, remove the outer leaves, one at a time, beginning at the bottom. Pull off a leaf and dip its fleshy base into the sauce. Place the bottom half of the leaf, concave-side down, in your mouth and draw it between your teeth so that you scrape off the tender flesh and pull out the fibrous portion of the leaf.

Continue eating the fleshy leaves until you encounter the inner petals, which are thin (like flower petals), rose-colored, and bunched to a point at the top. The bases of these can be bitten off rather than scraped through your teeth. Underneath the petals you’ll find the choke, a tuft of slender hay-colored fibers resembling corn silk. Pull or scrape off the choke to expose the artichoke bottom, which resembles the center of a daisy. That is your reward. Dense and velvety, the entire bottom can be cut into quarters, dipped, and eaten.

See also: 7 Recipe Ideas for Artichokes.