What Are Artichokes?

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The globe artichoke is a variety of the thistle family which has been cultivated as a food. The edible portion consists of the flower bud before it comes into bloom. They shouldn’t be confused with the Jerusalem artichoke, which has nothing to do with Jerusalem or is even a part of the artichoke family. Nutritious, fat-free and lo-cal, artichokes are so versatile they can be added to salads, mixed with pasta, mixed into casseroles,stuffed, chopped up and included in cheese spreads, grilled or enjoyed just plain boiled with melted butter or garlic mayo. With their mild, slightly nutty taste, they make a excellent addition to so many dishes, hot or cold.

The French love boiled fresh artichokes dipped in dijon mustard (what else?) With a bit of balsamic vinegar. Italians savor stuffed artichokes with a hot breadcrumb mix, as part of their favorite antipasto plates or added to risotto and pasta. Spanish cuisine is brimming with artichoke recipes, since this vegetable is at the top of Spain’s hit parade. They use them in a number of ways, including tapas (little tasting dishes), sauced, marinated, and added to rice dishes and stews. Big fans of grilling and stir frying, Thai cooks serve the artichoke in its basic form with spicy dipping sauces and noodles. Chinese favor a tuber-like vegetable often called a Chinese or Japan artichoke but actually isn’t related in any respect.

Artichokes arrived in America from the late nineteenth century with Italian immigrants, sadly too late for foodie president Thomas Jefferson to enjoy. But one could be sure he would have been a big fan and attempted to grow them in his estate gardens. They hold an annual Festival in the month of May, in peak season, where hundreds of delectable variations can be sampled, including grilled, sauteed, baked, fried, marinated, pickled, fresh, in soups, and of course cupcakes and ice cream. (Would I make that up?) Western farmers began producing the vegetable commercially in the 1920’s and sent them across the nation.

Egypt, Spain and Argentina also top the list for artichoke production, with the U.S. ranking ninth (just 10% of Italy’s production). But Americans love this vegetable like no other country, in some of their most popular variants:

 

Stuffed Artichokes
Cold Artichoke Pasta Salad
Hot Artichoke and Spinach Dip
Artichoke Chicken
Breaded and Fried
Hearts in Vegetable Salads or Casseroles
Risotto with Hearts
Eggs Sardou (your basic Eggs Florentine with a whole heart)
Artichokes are a relative newcomer to the U.S. but have been adopted by one and all. At times they may be somewhat pricey but can be enjoyed year ’round frozen, Centurian Services or canned. For the lowest cost and the freshest available, they should be bought at peak season, which begins in the month of March. If you like them simply boiled they require a half hour to cook, less time with a pressure cooker (which isn’t for the kitchen coward). But if you will need a fast fix or need to add them into a dish, then the canned hearts work just fine. So why not expand your vegetable world a bit and require an artichoke to lunch. You’ll find all choked up for sure.

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