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Cooking School Fundamentals – Artichokes

Artichokes are the immature flowers and stems of the artichoke plant, an edible thistle in the sunflower family. Along with broccoli and cauliflower, they are classified as an inflorescent vegetable, meaning a vegetable with an edible flower. Artichokes left to mature on the plant actually blossom into large violet flowers.

A full-grown artichoke plant reaches a height of three to four feet and can cover an area up to six feet in diameter. The plants begin to produce edible flowers during their second and third growing seasons. Larger artichokes grow on top of the plant while baby artichokes grow lower on the plant. Artichokes are sometimes considered a luxury due to the crop’s low yield per acre and high harvesting costs.

The most common artichoke variety available is the green globe. The bottom portion of the outer layers of leaves is tender, but only the leaves closer to the center may be eaten whole. Mature artichokes contain an inedible fibrous mass called the choke, the portion that would have transformed into the flower. Baby artichokes are entirely edible as the choke has not yet formed. At the center of the artichoke, just below the choke, lies the highly prized, tender heart. While the heart is superb eaten with just a squeeze of lemon juice and a little salt, it also lends itself well to marinating, roasting or deep-frying.

When serving artichokes with wine, keep in mind this combination tends to make the wine taste sweeter. Choose a highly acidic wine like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadet if you decide to serve wine with artichokes.

Unwashed artichokes can be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag up to five days. Don’t wash artichokes until you are ready to use. The best way to flush out any dirt between the leaves is to plunge them up and down in cold water.