What plant is related to a common weed, can be eaten as a vegetable, sold as an ornamental flower, is rumored to be an aphrodisiac, and was grown in the garden of King Henry VIII? Globe artichokes, or Cynara cardunculus. The relative of the common thistle originated in the Mediterranean region, and at 3 to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide, with deeply lobed gray-green leaves, they make a striking garden display.
When the tight “buds” appear on tall stalks, they can be harvested to eat. Leave them on the stalk longer and the petals, or more accurately bracts, open and reveal a beautiful purple thistle-like flower.
Although artichokes are thought of as vegetables, what you eat is actually an immature flower bud. The flower bud is made of hard and fibrous outer petals, called bracts, that protect the inedible hairy choke as well as the edible heart. Once the bud blooms into a flower, the hairs of the choke become tiny purple blossoms.
Artichokes are frequently cited as a superfood. They rank No. 1 over all vegetables in terms of antioxidant count, according to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Two antioxidants unique to artichokes, cynarin and silymarin, may lower cholesterol, support liver health, and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Low in calories, only 60 for a medium artichoke, they contain 4 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber and additionally are high in vitamin C, magnesium, and iron. To top it off, artichokes also contain prebiotics and probiotics, which have been shown to positively impact your gastrointestinal microbiome.
Whole artichokes are suited for people who enjoy working for their delicious food and love eating with their hands — people who like boiled peanuts, crab in the shell, and unhulled sunflower seeds. Steamed, roasted, or grilled artichokes release their meat in small buttery doses when you scrape your teeth against the bottom of each bract. Finally, when you get to the heart, you remove the tiny spiny petals without enough flesh to bother, scrape away the inedible fuzzy choke, and then indulge in whole bites of the meat that is worth every minute of work.
Fortunately, for those who buy their nuts shelled and crabs picked, you can easily find artichoke hearts already cleaned, picked, and ready to eat frozen, jarred, or marinated. These artichokes make quick delicious add-ins to salads and main dishes.
Artichoke season first arrives in the spring with a second bloom ready for harvest around October and November. When you are looking for fresh whole artichokes:
•Choose artichokes that feel heavy. Light artichokes may be dried out.
•The bracts, or leaves, should be closed tightly, not splayed open. Open bracts indicate the artichoke is closer to flowering and will be tougher.
•Give the artichoke a little squeeze. Fresh artichokes will give a little squeak like a new tennis shoe.
•Don’t worry as much about markings on the leaves. Sometimes the discoloration indicates the artichokes have been “frost kissed;” frost burns the outer layer, causing the skin to turn brown and peel like a sunburn. These artichokes have an intense nutty flavor and are highly prized.
Preparing a Whole Artichoke
Fill a bowl with water. Squeeze in juice of half a lemon and throw the half in the water for good measure. Artichokes oxidize and turn brown quickly after cutting. Putting them in the lemon water immediately after cutting keeps them looking fresh.
Using a sharp serrated knife, cut off the stem at the base of the artichoke and the top inch from the leaf end, removing the spiny tips. Removing the tops of the leaves isn’t required but makes a nicer presentation. Using a vegetable peeler on the stem, scrape away the outer fibrous skin and trim off the dried end. The white inner core is delicious like the heart. Drop each cut part of the artichoke in acidulated water as you go. When all your artichokes are prepped, you are ready to cook.
Chicken Tagine with Artichokes and Olives
A tagine is both a Moroccan type of pot and a stew. A traditional tagine pot is made of unglazed pottery with a bottom that fits tightly with a conical top, sealing in moisture and juices. In this case, we substitute an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven since they are less temperamental to heat and more likely to be found in your kitchen than a tagine.
The complex and fragrant stew begins with marinating the chicken in garlic and rich spices. The chicken is quickly browned and set aside to make room for finely chopped onions, sauteed until golden brown. The chicken goes back in the pot with olives, artichokes, and preserved lemons until cooked through and everyone in your house is drooling for dinner.
5 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of saffron
2 preserved lemons*
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 3-4 chunks each
1 medium Vidalia onion
½ -1 cup chicken broth
¾ cup olives
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and quartered
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
Put the first 7 ingredients, garlic through saffron, in a bowl. Quarter the preserved lemons. Scrape out the pulp and chop finely. Add the pulp to the spice mix and then whisk in the olive oil. Thinly slice the lemon skins and reserve for later.
Toss the chicken pieces in the marinade, making sure they are completely coated. Cover, refrigerate, and marinate for 8 to 24 hours. The longer you marinate, the deeper the flavor.
Heat a medium, enameled cast-iron casserole with a lid, on medium-high. Add the chicken and marinade. Quickly brown the chicken pieces on two sides. Set chicken aside on a plate. Cover and keep warm.
Turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the onions to the pan. Cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes stirring occasionally until the onions are lightly browned. Add the chicken back to the pan along with the chicken stock. Scatter artichokes, olives, and slivered preserved lemon peel over the top. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes until the chicken reaches 140 F at the center. Sprinkle fresh herbs on top. Serve with couscous or rice. Serves 4 to 6.
Can be made the day ahead. Store the dish in the refrigerator. Gently reheat before serving.
* Cook’s note: Preserved lemons are a Moroccan staple made from lemons that have been cured in lemon juice and salt. Look for them at specialty grocery stores.
Shrimp & Artichoke Salad
Get ready for a whole new level of shrimp salad! In this recipe, the shrimp are roasted with citrusy spices until tender and then tossed with grilled artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes. Add the salty pop of capers, crunchy celery, and fresh herbs for layers of flavor and texture. Citrusy sumac adds tang without making the shrimp tough like lemon juice or other acids would do.
Serve with a fresh homemade mayonnaise on the side if you like. If you only have the jarred stuff, skip the mayo, and serve the salad with lemon wedges.
2 pounds raw shrimp, tail off
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped fine
2 teaspoons coriander, divided
1 teaspoon sumac, divided
Red pepper flakes to taste
10 ounces artichoke hearts, grilled or marinated
¼ cup capers
1 cup celery, diced
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, slivered
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to broil. Place cooking rack about 6 inches from the burner. Toss shrimp in a bowl with salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, 1 teaspoon coriander, ½ teaspoon sumac, and red pepper flakes. Spread shrimp in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet.
Broil shrimp for 2 minutes. Flip the shrimp over and return to the oven for 1 minute until just pink. Remember they will continue cooking after being removed from the oven. It is better to remove them from the oven on the barely pink side than to cook them too long. Allow the shrimp to cool.
Toss the remaining ingredients together with the shrimp and serve. Can be made a day in advance. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Artichoke Spinach Tart
Elegant and simple, this tart offers flaky crisp pastry with creamy goat cheese, spinach, and artichokes. Delicious served as a main dish with a salad for a simple fall supper or as a side paired with grilled salmon.
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup butter (2 sticks), frozen for 10 minutes
½ cup ice cold water
Toss together flour, salt, and pepper. Grate butter on the wide holes of the grater box into the flour mixture, tossing as you go to coat and separate the butter flakes. Sprinkle the cold water over the mixture. Use a rubber scraper in a folding motion to bring the pastry together.
When you have a shaggy dough with some loose flour, turn the mixture out onto a mat or a piece of parchment. Use the mat to begin smashing the dough together. Turn the dough, gather up the loose butter and flour, and put them on one end of the dough. Fold the dough over on itself, trapping the loose material inside. Work the dough this way 1 to 3 times until it comes together. Divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes to 24 hours.
When you are ready to make your tart, roll out the dough to a roughly 12-inch round. Place the round on parchment on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to assemble.
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and quartered
5 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
6 ounces chèvre, softened
2 tablespoons sour cream
½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1½ teaspoons fresh thyme or lemon thyme
½ teaspoon lemon zest
Combine the softened chèvre with the sour cream and mix until there are no lumps. Add the eggs, thyme, and lemon zest. Mix until all the ingredients are incorporated. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Mix in the drained spinach.
Spread the cheese mixture in a roughly 10-inch circle in the middle of the pastry, leaving a 2-inch border all around. Arrange the artichokes on top. Fold the pastry back on top of the filling to form an edge, pleating the edges as you go.
Bake at 400 F until the crust is a deep golden tan. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6 people.
In this version, the butter and lemon flavor are baked into the artichoke for an easy, mouthwatering presentation.
2 artichokes, prepared as listed on page 102
1 to 2 teaspoons butter, divided
4 thin lemon slices
4 squares of aluminum foil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 F. Slice the prepared artichokes in half vertically. Using a sharp spoon or melon baller, scrape out the exposed choke. For the prettiest presentation, slice and scoop the artichokes while they are submerged in the acidulated water.
Place each half cut side up on a piece of foil. Put about ¼ teaspoon of butter in the hole where the choke was removed. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the lemon slice on top of each one.
Create a sealed foil packet around each artichoke half. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 25 to 35 minutes until a paring knife slides easily into the stem end. Carefully open each packet to avoid steam burns. Allow the artichokes to cool until safe to touch. Serve warm. Serves 2 to 4 as an appetizer or side dish.