Artichoke is a perennial plant and it is popularly known as ‘globe artichoke’. The flower of the artichoke looks like a big head with several scales of triangular shape. Each floret is of purple color. The only edible part of the artichoke is the fleshy portion of the flower that is primarily the base of the flower. This edible portion is usually called ‘heart’. There is a mass of florets in the middle of the edible bud that is basically the ‘choke’, this part is normally found in the immature and young artichoke flowers. Artichoke with its leaves or only with the ‘heart’ is a delicacy and used as an exotic ingredient in various artichoke recipes such as artichoke herbal tea, artichoke soup and artichoke and cheese spread.
History of Artichoke
History and origin of the artichoke is connected to the Mediterranean region. It is a plant that belongs to the family of sunflower. Though it’s a flower it is commonly used as a vegetable since olden times. The Latin word ‘canina’ is the original term for the botanical name of artichoke that is pronounced as ‘Cynara Scolymus’. The history of artichokes is believed to be older than 3000 years but at the time of the fall of Roman Empire the use of artichoke also saw significant decline. Artichoke had again come into existence in Italy in the middle of the 15th century. Catherine de Medici, an Italian native is responsible for the introduction of artichoke is France after her marriage with King Henry II. In France, artichoke recipes gained an instant popularity and quickly became an exotic vegetable all over the world. Frequent visits of Italian as well as French explorers to Britain and America led to the introduction of artichoke dishes in these countries.
Culinary Use of Artichokes
Artichoke is a vegetable that can be eaten on its own or used as a healthy addition to the various savory dishes. Artichoke is a well-liked ingredient in numerous appetizers, vegetable and meat side dishes as well as in several sauces and dips. Artichoke dishes are mildly nutty-flavored due to the edible leaves of the vegetable. Usually, the ‘heart’ of the artichoke is added to all artichoke dishes. The main purpose of artichoke is to enhance the flavor of artichoke recipes. Boiled artichokes are a suitable choice for appetizers eaten with mayonnaise of butter based dips. Artichoke hearts are and integral part of the various Italian pizza recipes. Many baked artichoke dishes are quite popular in international cuisines. Tortilla and various rice dishes are also fondly cooked with sautéed artichokes. In various cuisines, artichoke is used as one of the ingredient in making ‘herbal tea’ due to the fact that artichoke has some healing powers. Artichoke recipes also include liquors that are flavored with this magical vegetable.
Popular Artichoke Recipes
• Creamy artichoke chicken soup – This is one of the easiest and most popular artichoke recipes. Artichoke hearts are combined with chicken broth and cream to make this hearty dish.
• Turkey artichoke pie – This turkey dish is flavored with artichoke hearts and eaten as a main dish either in lunch or dinner.
• Artichoke hearts in tomato rice – Sautéed artichoke hearts tastes delicious with tomato flavored rice.
• Cynar – It is one of the most popular artichoke recipes for liqueur. Cynar is a famous bitter liqueur in Italian cuisine primarily consisting of artichoke and other herbs and plants.
• Artichoke four season’s pizza – This is an Italian recipe specially combining artichoke with olives, mushroom and tomatoes.
Cuisines Commonly Making Artichoke Dishes
Being a Mediterranean native, artichoke is a well-liked ingredient in Italian as well as Greek dishes. Italian artichoke dishes are world-famous. Various pizza recipes fondly use artichoke as an exotic and flavorful ingredient. Even a famous liqueur called ‘Cynar’ is named after artichoke as it dominates the flavor of the drink. Artichoke is indeed a very unsual ingredient due to its shape and texture but its usage in several cuisines makes it a ‘premium’ vegetable. Like Italian cuisine, French cuisine also has a large number of artichoke dishes in their food menu. Steamed artichokes are popularly eaten with hollandaise sauce as an appetizer in French cuisine. Artichokes are sprinkled with olive oil and salt and barbequed to serve with Spanish rice or with Mexican tortilla. In Greek cuisine also, artichoke dishes are fondly eaten. Artichokes are mixed with meat as well as seafood to make well-liked American and English artichoke dishes.
Preferred Methods of Making Artichoke Dishes
• Boiled – Artichokes are well-cooked after boiling. They should be boiled in open vessel in order to remove all the acidic contents of the vegetable.
• Steamed – Artichoke hearts are steamed to make various appetizers. Artichoke dishes made with steamed artichokes are specially eaten with various dips and sauces.
• Baking – Baked artichoke dishes usually contain meats and other vegetables as the main ingredients. Turkey artichoke pie is the best example for this method.
• Sautéing – Artichokes are sautéed with oil and garlic and added to various savory dishes.
• Stuffing – Few artichokes that are big in size are stuffed with meats and other ingredients to make exotic artichoke dishes.
Nutritive Value of Artichokes
Served hot or cold, with or without leaves, artichoke is a good source of folate and potassium. After various studies on the extract of artichoke it is proved that there is a substance called ‘cynarin’, found in the edible parts of the vegetable, which is helpful in controlling cholesterol levels. It is also responsible for improving liver functions and has a lasting beneficial effect on gallstone disease. Artichoke is considered a natural diuretic and also a helpful aid in digestion problems.
Buying and Storing of Artichokes
The purchase and storage of artichokes is based upon the following points:
• A closed artichoke should always be purchased as open leaves are not the sign of fresh vegetable.
• Vibrant colored vegetable should be purchased.
• Heavy weight artichoke is considered suitable for buying.
• One more sign that may prove the freshness of artichoke is the squeaking sound of leaves when rubbed.
• Discolored and browned leaves should be avoided.
• Artichokes should be washed thoroughly before storing.
• Wet artichokes should be wrapped in a plastic sheet and kept in refrigerator for up to 2-3 weeks.
• Cut artichokes should be sprinkled with lemon, vinegar or salt to avoid discoloration.
• Leftover artichoke dishes can also be stored in refrigerator for up to 4-5 days.
Types of Artichoke
Though there are three types of artichokes: Chinese artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke and globe artichoke there is no relation between all three of them. Globe artichoke is most commonly used in making artichoke dishes and it has at least 50 varieties. Globe artichokes can be classified according to the size:
• Jumbo artichokes – These are bigger in size and due to hard texture they are ideal for making stuffed artichoke dishes.
• Baby artichokes – they are smaller in size and have tender leaves and heart. It is best suited for sautéed artichoke recipes.
• California is known for producing the highest amount of artichokes.
• Artichokes made in honey and vinegar was the main treat for rich Romans.