Variety Spotlight of the Week: Artichokes
Tuesday, March 1st, 2011
Cream of Artichoke Heart Soup and
Fresh Artichokes with Lemony Mayonnaise Recipes
Our Variety Spotlight of the Week is the glorious artichoke. Fun and useful information about artichokes can be found below as well as a traditional recipe for cooking whole artichokes and a recipe for artichoke soup that is really incredible. It makes a great meal when served with a loaf of French bread. Enjoy!
Native to the Mediterranean, the artichoke is the edible flower bud of a thistle-like plant in the sunflower family which is eaten as a vegetable. One plant can produce up to 30 chokes of different sizes. The edible buds have a slightly nutty-flavor. Once the flower matures, the artichoke becomes inedible so the buds are harvested by hand before flowering.
Cynara scolymus, derived from the Latin canina meaning canine and the Greek skolymos meaning thistle. Its English name comes from the Arabic al-khurshuf also meaning thistle, which became articiocco in Italian, and ultimately artichoke.
Common and Other Names:
artichoke, artischocke, alcachofa, artichaut, carciofo, alcachofra, edible thistle
Although fresh artichokes are available year-round in most markets, prime season is in spring, from March to May in the northern hemisphere.
Select globes that are deep green, with a tight leaf formation, and those that feel heavy for their size. A good test of freshness is to press the leaves against each other which should produce a squeaking sound. Size has little to do with quality or flavor. Small artichokes are just a smaller bud.
Whole artichokes are available fresh in most markets. Artichoke hearts are also available frozen and canned.
Store fresh artichokes unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. It’s best to use fresh artichokes on the day of purchase. Cooked leftovers can be refrigerated up to four days. To freeze whole cooked artichokes for later use, drain completely, wrap tightly in foil and pack in plastic freezer bags or other airtight container for 6 to 8 months.
Miscellaneous Artichoke Information:
Use a stainless steel knife to trim the artichoke and avoid iron or aluminum cooking pots to discourage discoloration. A light spray of lemon juice will prevent darkening of trimmed artichokes awaiting preparation. Artichokes are fully cooked when a bottom leaf can easily be pulled from the base. Raw hearts should be cooked in acidulated (lemon juice or vinegar) water. Forego any good wine while eating artichokes. They cause chemical changes which affect the taste buds, enhancing sweet flavors.
- 1 stick butter
- ½ cup chopped green onions (including tops)
- ½ cup flour
- Hearts of six artichokes, diced*
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup of half and half
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and add green onions. Cook for 2 to 5 minutes stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low, whisk in flour to make a roux, and cook roux for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring constantly until all the “flour” taste is gone. Add diced artichoke hearts to pan and stir to mix well. Add broth, whisking constantly and increase heat to medium. Bring soup to a simmer stirring frequently. Simmer for 5 minutes, add remaining ingredients and cook for another 4 minutes or until cheese is melted and thoroughly incorporated into soup. If soup is too thick, add some more broth until desired consistency is reached.
*First get a large bowl and fill it one half full of ice cold water (you can add some ice to cold tap water) and squeeze the juice from one lemon into the water. This, in technical terms, is called acidulated water. In layman’s terms, lemon water. This will keep your artichoke heart from turning brown. To get to the heart: take off the outer leaves of the artichoke and cut ½ inch off of the top. With a sharp paring knife or kitchen shears, continue removing the outer leaves until you get to the heart which is a light yellow or very pale green color as opposed to the outer leaves which are a much darker green. Now you need to remove the inner portion of the choke. A measuring spoon or melon baller seems to work well for this. When you open the very center of the heart you will see a material that looks kind of “fluffy”, like cotton. Scrape and discard all of this material. You should now have the finished “heart”. Immediately place in the lemon water.
I remember the first time I cooked artichokes. I was 14 and had my first job at a legendary Springfield restaurant, Ebenezer’s. We would cook 3 or 4 cases at a time in a very large steam kettle and the pickling spice I use in the recipe below is from those Ebenezer’s days. I can still remember the wonderful aroma of the spices coming from the kettle while the artichokes cooked. I have not cooked or eaten artichokes in a very long time and forgot how wonderful they really are. Kids even seem to like them and enjoy pulling off the leaves. Who doesn’t?
- 4 fresh artichokes
- 2 tablespoons pickling spice
- 3 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 2 lemons
- 1 cup Hellman’s Mayonnaise
- ¼ cup DaVinci Extra Virgin
- 1 bulb garlic
- ¼ teaspoon each salt and
Put 3 quarts of water in a large saucepan and add pickling spice and salt to water. Cut 1 lemon in half, squeeze juice into water from each half and drop the lemon halves into the water. Bring to a boil over high heat. While water is heating, prepare artichokes. Take off the outer leaves of the artichoke and cut ½ inch off of the top. With a sharp paring knife or kitchen shears, remove any remaining pointy spines. Cut off the ends of the artichokes right up to the base. When water is boiling, add the artichokes and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pan and cook artichokes for 30 to 40 minutes until an outer leaf pulls off easily.
Crush garlic bulb with the flat side of a large knife. Remove the skins from all of the cloves and put cloves in food processor. Add ½ of the olive oil to processor and chop garlic until fine using the pulse action. Scrape side of processor bowl to get an even chop. You can chop with a knife and then add oil to garlic. The garlic in oil will last weeks in the refrigerator and will taste much fresher than any garlic in a jar.
Cut other lemon in half and squeeze juice through a sieve to catch seeds into a small bowl. Add mayonnaise, the remaining oil, and 1 tablespoon of the garlic to the bowl. Add the salt and pepper and mix well.
Remove the artichokes from the water and drain well. Serve immediately with lemony mayonnaise. If you have never eaten them before, you are in for a treat! To eat them, pull off leaves, starting at the outside then dip bottom of leaf into mayonnaise. Pull the bottom part of the leaf through clenched teeth. The soft, edible part will come off the leaf. Discard the remainder of the leaf. As you move further inside the artichoke, there is more and more that is edible until you reach the prize, the heart! You will notice when you pull all of the inner leaves out of center, you will see a furry type substance. Cut this out and discard as it is not edible. What remains is the artichoke heart and is completely edible and really wonderful. Enjoy!