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 wonderful 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 popular antipasto plates or added to risotto and pasta. Spanish cuisine is brimming with artichoke recipes, as this vegetable is at the top of Spain’s hit parade. They use them in a number 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 hot dipping sauces and noodles. Chinese favor a tuber-like vegetable often known as a Chinese or Japan artichoke but in fact 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 can be sure he’d 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 sampled, such as broiled, sauteed, baked, fried, marinated, Animal Control, pickled, refreshing, in soups, and of course cupcakes and ice cream. (Would I make that up?) Western farmers started producing the vegetable commercially from the 1920’s and sent them across the country.
The largest producer by far, Italy weighs in at over 450,00 tons annually. Egypt, Spain and Argentina also top the list for artichoke production, together with the U.S. ranking ninth (just 10 percent 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 may be a bit expensive but can be enjoyed year ’round frozen or canned. For the lowest cost and the freshest available, they should be purchased at peak season, which starts 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 need a quick fix or want to add them into a dish, the canned hearts work just fine. So why not expand your vegetable world a bit and take an artichoke to lunch. You’ll get all choked up for sure.