Artichoke: Native to the Mediterranean, artichokes are the flowers of a variety of thistle. With no association to the similarly named Jerusalem artichoke, globe artichokes are harvested before the flower blooms, leaving a delicately textured and sweet flavoured heart and tender leaves.
Records show artichokes being grown as early as ancient Greek and Roman times, predominantly being cultivated in Sicily. The Dutch introduced the artichoke to England in the 16th Century, with King Henry VIII choosing to grow it in his garden at Newhall.
The most common is the large green globe artichoke which has a broad base and large leaves – a natural for steaming, stuffing or baking. The Fiesole, the smaller purple artichoke is widely grown on allotments around the UK. It has a more intense flavour than the globes and delicious parboiled and thrown on the grill. There are many other different artichoke cultivars—encompassing a wide range of shapes, colours and sizes, including ‘baby’ artichokes. Smaller buds on the same plant as their larger kinfolk. Great for braising whole or thinly shaved and drizzled with olive oil and a few shards of parmesan.
Artichokes have both an unique flavour and texture but are highly versatile. They contain a phenolic compound called cynarin that makes anything eaten immediately afterwards have a tendency to taste sweet. This sweetness is a great flavour intensifier and therefore artichokes are delicious paired with salty, sweet, acidic and meaty ingredients.
Seasonal period: June to November
Flavour friends: Ingredients such as bacon, salty cheese and oysters are particularly accommodating to the sweet flavours of artichokes. To offer a little freshness and lift, acidity introduced by citrus fruits is a great way to lighten dishes – fresh herbs such as mint also do the trick. Artichoke also has an earthy, meaty tendency making it the perfect pairing to more decadent ingredients cured ham and truffle.
Buying, storing and preparing: Choose artichokes that have tightly packed leaves which are crisp and vibrant in colour; either purple or green. They should feel particularly heavy for their size and will have squeaky leaves when rubbed.
Preferably eat the same day as purchase, however, they are happily stored in the fridge for a couple of days.
Slice the top of the artichoke off, approximately 1/2 inch, as well as the stem. Remove the first few layers of leaves around the base before using scissors to trim the tips of all the remaining leaves. Using a teaspoon, remove the fibrous ‘choke’ from the core of the vegetable leaving the delicate heart intact.
Once prepared, cover in acidulated water (lemon and water) to ensure it does not brown whilst prepare the others.
Cooking: Steam or boil in pan of salted water for approximately 40 minutes then turn upside down to drain. The artichokes are cooked when leaves can be easily pulled out.
Once the heads have been boiled or steamed, remove central leaves and the choke, stuff with your desire ingredients, drizzle with a little oil and bake in the oven for a further 15 minutes at 200C.
Or simply grill – cut lengthways and remove the choke. Bush with a little oil and place on a grill, griddle pan or barbecue for approximately 30 minutes.
Globe Artichoke Salad with Preserved Lemon Mayonnaise
Plaice and Artichoke
Baked Stuffed Artichokes with Leeks (and Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Trim an Artichoke)
Words by Helen Upshall