The globe artichoke is a variety of the thistle family which has been cultivated as a food. The edible portion comprises 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 contained in cheese spreads, grilled or appreciated just plain boiled with melted butter or garlic mayo. With their gentle, slightly nutty taste, they make a wonderful addition to so many dishes, cold or hot.
The French enjoy boiled fresh artichokes dipped in dijon mustard (what else?) With a bit of balsamic vinegar. Italians savor stuffed artichokes with a spicy breadcrumb mixture, 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 many of ways, such as 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 prefer a tuber-like vegetable often called a Chinese or Japan artichoke but in fact isn’t related in any respect.
Artichokes arrived in America in 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 tried to grow them in his mansion gardens. They hold an annual Festival in the month of May, in peak season, where hundreds of delectable variations can be peeled, such as grilled, Centurian Wildlife, 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 country.
Egypt, Spain and Argentina also top the list for artichoke production, together with the U.S. ranking ninth (only 10% of Italy’s production). But Americans love this vegetable like no other country, in some of their most popular variations:
Just Roasted or Boiled, dipped in butter or mayo
Artichokes are a relative newcomer to the U.S. but have been adopted by one and all. At times they might be somewhat pricey but can be enjoyed year ’round canned or frozen. For the lowest price 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 take a half hour to cook, less time using a pressure cooker (which isn’t for the kitchen coward). But if you need a fast fix or want to add them to a dish, then the canned hearts work just fine. So why not expand your vegetable world a little and take an artichoke to lunch. You’ll get all choked up for certain.