Contrary to common belief, artichokes are not vegetables but rather the flowers of a cultivated thistle. The petals — that we call “leaves” incorrectly — are tough and surround the choke. The much appreciated heart is at the base of the bud and is attached to a thick stem, which you can also eat.
Round and bulbous artichokes are the most commonly found. Baby artichokes — a so-called variety — have more tender leaves and no chokes, you can eat them whole. Note that not all small artichokes are necessary baby artichokes, there are several species.
The best specimens are fully mature artichokes that grow at the base of the plant. It’s sometimes hard to trace what you’re buying unless you shop close to the source or they’re marked accurately on the label. The casual “baby” labeled artichokes are in fact the specimens that grow on side branches. They are not as tender as “real “baby artichokes and don’t taste the same.
It is possible to boil artichokes, but it’s not recommended because they become mushy and clogged with water. Steaming is better because it keeps them in good shape. It’s always fun to eat the leaves. You might have these souvenirs when as kids you used to scrape off the flavorful meat using your front teeth. The closer you get to the center, the more tender the leaves. When approaching the core, you would avoid furry choke.
Hearts and baby artichokes can be cooked in many ways: sautéed, braised, fried, roasted, or grilled whole, halved, or sliced. You should always buy fresh artichokes because canned, jarred, and frozen artichokes really don’t taste the same.
Buying and storing
Artichokes are available throughout the year but their peak season is spring, they’re also cheaper at this time of the year. Their varieties come in a wide array of sizes, but look for specimens that are compact and heavy, that don’t look withered or dried out. Keep them in your refrigerator, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag.
Whole artichokes: Cut off the pointed tips of the leaves with scissors or — if you want to go straight — cut off the whole top third of the artichoke’s head with a serrated knife or a large chef knife. Hold the artichoke firmly to avoid any accident. Peel around the base with an office knie and cut the bottom 1/4 inch off; get rid off the toughest exterior leaves. In order to remove the choke before cooking, cut in half or into quarters and scrape it out or alternatively you can cut off the tops of the leaves, open the central petals, and pull and then scrape out the choke with a coffee spoon. Rinse after scrapping the choke.
For artichoke hearts: Cut off as much of the top of the artichoke as possible or split it lengthwise. Trim and peel the base with a small knife; scrape out the choke with a spoon.
Small or baby artichokes: If they are tender enough, you can eat them whole. Sometimes it’s good to trim the top and exterior leaves. in any case, halve, quarter or slice it lengthwise and remove the choke if necessary.
On last note about canned, jarred and frozen artichokes
It’s a fact that most canned and jarred artichokes are already cooked, so you can add them whole or chopped or sliced in the last few minutes of cooking. Artichokes that are heavily marinated or brined ones can be rinsed to wash away some of the liquids flavor you don’t want (vinegar…). Thaw frozen artichokes and use them like fresh ones, but cut the cooking time in half; because frozen artichokes are already partially cooked.