artichokes

Spring brings the promise of shedding the old heavy winter foods and providing us with wonderful new flavors to enjoy. But, then again – each new season brings its own delicacies in which to look forward to.

We all know that real food is incredibly important for our health – but, did you know that the phytochemical ‘farmacy’ is incredibly important and that each vegetable and fruit is filled with nutrients and micronutrients that your body needs.

So, today – let’s look at the Artichoke (the globe artichoke) and see what it is, its history, its health benefits, and how to prepare them.

Artichokes are a member of the thistle family and are at their peak during the springtime.  Most commercially grown artichokes for the US market (80%) come from California’s Monterey Peninsula and the fields are a sight to see!

artichoke-harvest-Baraoda_Farms-2

I often wonder when you look at some of these foods – “who was the first brave person to try this?”  I am glad someone had the forethought to do this!

What we do know is that artichoke seeds have been found in Roman era excavations. However, improvements of the cultivar occurred during medieval times in Muslim Spain (actually the word artichoke shares an Arabic ancestry). The vegetable then moved into Italy (which grows the most artichokes) and France. They were finally introduced into the United States in the 1800’s. So, this little guy has been around!

And, artichokes are full of health benefits. But, to be fully transparent – it is the leaves that contain most of the vegetables phytonutrients. Let’s look at what this vegetable can do for you.

  • Artichokes are high in fiber. It contains 5.5 g of fiber per prepared artichoke. This translates to about 15 % of your recommended daily allowance.
  • Artichokes are high in anti-oxidants. Noteworthy antioxidants include:
    • Anthocyanins – which have been shown to have protective properties for cardiovascular disease and cancer.
    • Cynarin – stimulates the production of bile which helps with the excretion of toxins and also cholesterol from the body. And promotes liver function.
    • Luteolin – anticancer properties
    • Silymarin – used to treat liver and gall bladder disorders
    • Rutin – anti-inflammation properties
    • Gallic acid – anticancer properties
    • Vitamin C – anti-inflammation and immunological properties.
    • Other micronutrients include Vitamin K (bone and brain health); B vitamins (for cellular metabolism) and minerals like copper, calcium, potassium, and iron.

Makes you want to treat it with a little more respect, doesn’t it.

However, many of you won’t be surprised to know that artichokes are not initially  ‘user friendly’; and when you first look at them, the prospect of making them does seem daunting.  But, no worries – I have some options for you.

There are many methods you can use to cook an artichoke, (steaming, braising, roasting are all good ways to do it).

Now for some easy steps to get you on your way!

First: Choose artichokes that feel heavy for their size with leaves that are close together. Note that artichokes keep well in the refrigerator for about a week.  Just keep them in a zip top bag so they don’t dry out.

Second: Preparation – this is a great recipe for Roasted Artichokes from Cook’s Illustrated.

Roasted Artichokes from Cook's Illustrated

Roasted Artichokes from Cook’s Illustrated

Roasted Artichokes

Serves 4

1 lemon, plus lemon wedges for serving

4 artichokes (8 to 10 ounces each)

3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and Pepper

 

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Cut lemon in half, squeeze halves into 2 quarts water, and drop in spent halves.
  2. Cut off most of stem of 1 artichoke, leaving about 3/4 inch attached. Cut off top quarter. Pull tough outer leaves downward toward stem and break off at base; continue until first three or four rows of leaves have been removed. Using paring knife, trim outer layer of stem and rough areas around base, removing any dark green parts. Cut artichoke in half lengthwise. Using spoon, remove fuzzy choke. Pull out inner, tiny purple-tinged leaves, leaving small cavity in center of each half. Drop prepped halves into lemon water. Repeat with remaining artichokes.
  3. Brush 13 by 9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil. Remove artichokes from lemon water, shaking off some excess lemon water (some should be left clinging to leaves). Toss artichokes with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 3/4 teaspoon salt and season with pepper to taste, gently working some oil and seasonings between leaves. Arrange artichoke halves cut side down in baking dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil.
  4. Roast until cut sides of artichokes start to brown and both bases and leaves are tender when poked with tip of paring knife, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer artichokes to serving dish. Serve artichokes warm or at room temperature, passing lemon wedges separately.

Third: Eat! Take each leaf by the non-fleshy side, and pull the other side through your teeth to remove the tender flesh.  Discard the rest of the petal. When you get to the heart, remove the hair, if not already removed and eat the heart.  There are so many sauces that go well with artichokes. One of the best is mayonnaise or aioli,  but vinaigrette works as well. Here is a great recipe if you are interested in trying out this fantastic powerhouse of a vegetable.

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