This week we’re steaming up a spring flower with a delicious heart.
The artichoke belongs to the thistle family. The plant’s develop a large leafy head from a young edible bud or “heart.” The inedible “hair” growing out of the heart beneath the artichoke leaves is known as the choke or “beard.” If not harvested, the artichokes will mature into purple flowers.
Artichokes are rumored to have come from North Africa, where they are still found growing wild, spreading then perhaps to the Middle East, before arriving in Europe.
Artichokes were cultivated in Sicily since the time of the ancient Greeks who passed them on to the Romans.
The Dutch introduced artichokes to England, where they grew in Henry VIII’s garden at Newhall in 1530. They were brought to the United States in the 19th century, to Louisiana by French immigrants and to California by Spanish immigrants. 1
In the United States, California provides nearly 100% of the U.S. crop, and approximately 80 percent of that is grown in Monterey County. Castroville, of Monterey County, proclaims itself to be “The Artichoke Center of the World”, and holds an annual Artichoke Festival in May. There one can find artichokes fried, sautéed, grilled, marinated, pickled, fresh, and creamed, as well a parade, games, vegetable sculptures, and artichoke patch tours. Castroville is only a 30 minute drive from Gilroy, which holds its annual Garlic Festival every July. 2, 3
Artichokes are high in anti-cancer and heart healthy antioxidants. They also contain inulin, which is a prebiotic, feeding one’s beneficial gut bacteria and thus presumably strengthening the immune system. Cynarin, a compound primarily found in artichoke leaves, may increase bile flow, improving digestion. It inhibits taste receptors, making other foods and beverages taste sweet. Artichokes also contain the bioactive compounds apigenin and luteolin, which are being researched for possible beneficial effects against atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus and certain cancers. 4, 5, 6, 7
The Art of Artichoke Eating: For those first trying artichokes, eating them can seem a little bit intimidating. After one’s first artichoke though, they become simply delicious. Sometimes a video is worth more than words:
Leaves are often removed one at a time, and dipped in garlic butter, olive oil, vinaigrette, mayonnaise, aioli, hollandaise, or other sauces. Placing the leaf in one’s mouth, close one’s teeth, and draw out the leaf, scraping off the tender flesh on the inner side of the leaf into one’s mouth. At the center of the leaves, is the “bearded” artichoke heart. Scrape off the hairy beard with a spoon, and share the entirely edible heart with your loved ones. The stem, once its outer fibrous layer is removed with a knife and it is steamed, is also edible.
Artichoke with Garlic Butter
Preparation Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Yield: 2-4 servings
3 Tablespoons butter and/or olive oil
1 to 4 cloves garlic
Salt to taste
Optional: 2 tsp Parmesan cheese, pinch dried basil
Optional: Garlic press
1. Cut off artichoke stem. Cut off fibrous outer layer of stem.
2. Gently open artichoke leaves a bit if tightly closed. Place artichoke and stem in steamer pot, bring to a boil, and steam for ~1 hour, until the cooled edible flesh of a leaf is tender.
3. Saute garlic, butter/olive oil, and salt on low heat, until garlic is translucent. Pour into small dish for dipping.
4. Place artichoke, stem, and garlic butter on a serving plate. Enjoy!
1. Artichoke Origin: Vartavan, C. (de) and Asensi Amoros, V. 1997 Codex of Ancient Egyptian Plant Remains. London, Triade Exploration. Page 91
4. Benefits + Compounds: Ceccarelli N., Curadi M., Picciarelli P., Martelloni L., Sbrana C., Giovannetti M. “Globe artichoke as a functional food” Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 2010 3:3 (197-201)
5. Cesar G. Fraga. “Plant Phenolics and Human Health– Biochemistry, Nutrition and Pharmacology” . Wiley. p.9
6. Costabile A, Kolida S, Klinder A, Gietl E, Bäuerlein M, Frohberg C, Landschütze V, Gibson GR “A double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study to establish the ‘bifidogenic’ effect of a very-long-chain inulin extracted from globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) in healthy human subjects.” Br J Nutr. 2010 Oct;104(7):1007-17