A domesticated variety of an edible thistle, the artichoke is a large, spreading plant with an edible flower bud. The base of the petals yield a creamy, slightly bitter “meat” that grows more plentiful toward the heart of the flower. Considered an icon of California cuisine, the artichoke is not only a seasonal delicacy but the center of many food and cultural festivals, including one that crowned Marilyn Monroe as the first official California Artichoke Queen in 1949.
While its origin as a food source is shrouded in mystery, there is evidence of artichokes being farmed in Sicily during the heyday of ancient Greece. Farmers in Spain and Northern Africa continued to improve the artichoke through cultivation. By the 16th century, the artichoke had been embraced in French, Italian, and even English cuisine. The artichoke was brought to the United States in the 19th century by Spanish and French immigrants, leading to its cultivation in both Louisiana and California. By the 1920s, the artichoke was a coveted delicacy throughout the country, with demand so great that the mayor of New York City banned them for a brief period.
Artichokes are a good source of vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and fiber.
Seal unwashed artichokes with a damp paper towel in an airtight plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
While the classic preparation for artichoke is to steam lightly, then dip in melted butter or mayonnaise, there are many other ways to enjoy this vegetable. Artichokes can be baked or roasted with a filling of grain, seeds, cheese, or meat. Sectioned artichokes can be added to warm or cold salads, pasta, pizza, and dips. Halved or quartered artichokes can be poached or braised in aromatic liquid, fried into tempura, or grilled and served with a tangy dipping sauce.
Peel the artichoke stem and cut away tough outer leaves. Trim away pointed ends of remaining leaves, and slice artichoke in half. Rub the cut surface immediately with lemon juice to prevent oxidization, then remove the fuzzy choke from the center of the head. Arrange halved artichokes on a baking sheet and place a clove of garlic in the center of each halved artichoke. Add capers, chopped herbs, or feta cheese, if desired. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, then roast at 400 degrees until edges are brown and crisp.
The stems of artichokes are often edible, and taste just like the heart. To test its edibility, peel the stem with a knife, cut off a small piece, and taste. If it is not bitter, cook along with the rest of the artichoke.