|Ahhh, the California artichoke...vegetable of passion, food of nobility, thistle of love! A true delight, classy and natural, fit for an Artichoke Queen!
Your first experience with an artichoke may be intimidating — the unusual exterior masks the delights that dwell within. Fear not! Once your doubts have been conquered, there is no turning back. This marvelous vegetable will engage your mind and tickle your tongue.
In spring and winter, look for artichokes with a soft green color and tightly-packed leaves. During summer, artichokes tend to be flared and conical in shape. Fall and winter artichokes may be darker or bronze-tipped, or have a whitish blistered appearance due to frost. Many consider these "winter-kissed" artichokes to be the most tender and flavorful. Appreciation of their seasonal variation in size, shape and color raises artichokes to a whole new "art" form!
California artichokes — easy to prepare, fun to eat and delicious!
California artichokes are available in most markets all year, with the peak season in the spring — March, April and May.
Download Artichoke Information Chart (PDF format)
In spring and winter, look for artichokes that are compact, firm and heavy for their size; summer and fall artichokes tend to be flared and conical in shape. Choose spring and summer artichokes with an even green color. Fall and winter artichokes may be touched by frost — winter-kissed with a whitish, blistered appearance — and show light bronze to brown on the outer leaves. These are often considered to be premier artichokes — tender and tasty.
Artichokes come in sizes ranging from baby to jumbo and are all mature when picked. Small, or baby, artichokes weigh 2 to 2 ounces each and are ideal for appetizers, stews or sautés. When properly trimmed, every party is edible.
Medium artichokes weigh 8 to 10 ounces each. They are best served with a dip; stuffed with a hot or cold filling of meat, vegetables or salad; or trimmed, sliced and sautéed or stir-fried.
Large artichokes weigh 15 to 20 ounces each. This size is usually stuffed as an entrée or served as a shared appetizer with a dip for two to four people.
Sprinkle fresh California artichokes with water package in an airtight plastic bag and refrigerate. Cooked artichokes should be cooled completely and refrigerated, covered. Cooked or raw artichokes will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.
ALL STEAMED UP — The Art of Cooking Artichokes
You won't believe how easy it is to cook artichokes.
Stand prepared artichoke in deep saucepan or pot with 3 inches boiling water. (If desired, oil, lemon juice and seasonings can be added to cooking water.) Cover and boil gently 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size, or until petal near center pulls out easily. Stand artichoke upside down to drain.
Place prepared artichoke on rack above boiling water. Cover and steam 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size, or until petal near center pulls out easily.
Place prepared artichoke(s) in deep microwave-safe cup or bowl. See chart below and add water; cover, and microcook at HIGH (100%) for time indicated. Give dish a quarter-turn halfway through cooking time. Let stand 5 minutes. When done, petal near center will pull out easily.
THE ART OF EATING AN ARTICHOKE — Putting a Finger on the Problem
The artichoke's greatest claim to fame is its position at the top of the finger-food chain, the Aristocrat of the Nibble! It is both proper and polite to pluck the leaves with your fingers, leaving fork and knife aside for now.
California artichokes may be served hot or cold. To eat, pull off outer petals one at a time. Dip base of petal into sauce or melted butter; pull through teeth to remove soft, pulpy portion of petal. The result is a mouthful of savory artichoke: perfectly polite, and downright delicious! Go ahead, try it! Discard remaining petal.
Continue until all petals have been removed. Spoon out fuzzy center at base; discard. The bottom, or heart, of the artichoke is entirely edible. Cut into small pieces and dip into sauce.
A 12-ounce artichoke contains only 25 calories, no fat, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 185 milligrams of potassium and is low in sodium. It is a significant source of vitamin C, folic acid and magnesium.
Artichokes are one of the oldest foods known to man. They were first cultivated for food in the Mediterranean basin thousands of years ago. Early plantings were made in the U.S. by French settlers in Louisiana and by the Spanish in the mid-coastal areas of California.
FACTS & FODDER
- Most of todays artichokes come from the coastal areas of California, where they hold the title of "The Official Vegetable of Monterey County."
- In 1948, a young Norma Jean was crowned Castroville's first "Artichoke Queen"
- Monterey County, California produces 80 percent of the nation's artichokes
- The town of Castroville is known as "The Artichoke Capital of the World"
- Monterey's peak artichoke season is spring; artichokes are available nationally March — May and beyond
- Nearly four million artichokes are harvested annually from the region
- Golden Globe is the primary variety grown in Monterey
- Baby artichokes are simply lower growth flowers on the primary stalks
- Artichokes have a rich and varied history, originally hailing from the Mediterranean
- Artichokes are said to be aphrodisiacs
- A sure-fire winner for the inept home chef or camping menu, artichokes can be prepared a variety of ways including steaming boiling, broiling, sautéing, microwaving and grilling
- Artichokes are flower buds, best stored in a plastic bag with a sprinkling of moisture in the refrigerator
- In full growth, an artichoke plant can spread nine feet in diameter and stand five feet tall; one plant can produce up to 20+ artichokes annually
- Americans are divided on the artichoke's favorite sidekick: Eastern states prefer butter while Western regions opt for mayonnaise or aioli
- Artichokes are one of the oldest foods known to man. Zeus was said to turn a scorned lover into an artichoke
- As a vegetarian entrée, side dish, appetizer or colorful garnish, the artichoke is a well-rounded menu item
- Artichokes are a significant source of vitamin C, folic acid and magnesium. Virtually fat-free, the artichoke weighs in at 25 calories (12 oz.) and is low in sodium
- Monterey County boasts more than 300 restaurants featuring artichokes in a variety of performances, from sautéed to fried.