Good questions. First, from the California Artichoke advisory board:
WHAT IS AN ARTICHOKE?
A native of the Mediterranean, the artichoke can be grown as a perennial or annual crop. It is a member of the thistle tribe of the sunflower (Compositae) family. In full growth, the plant spreads to cover an area about six feet in diameter and reaches a height of three to four feet. Its long, arching, deeply serrated leaves give the plant a fern-like appearance. Historically, the Green Globe cultivar has accounted for most of the production but that has changed as new varieties have come into production and, as of 2007, annuals have overtaken perennial production.
The "vegetable" that we eat is actually the plant's flower bud. If allowed to flower, the blossoms measure up to seven inches in diameter and are a beautiful violet-blue color. The size of the bud depends upon where it is located on the plant. The largest are "terminal" buds produced at the end of the long central stems. These are the ones you are most likely to see from the car during a springtime drive throughout the area. Buds are smaller lower on the stemAnd, from the same source:
The artichoke is fun to eat, and it's good for you. One medium sized artichoke is a good source of vitamin C, folate and potassium. It's low in sodium, fat-free and a dieter's delight at only 25 calories.
It's also a natural diuretic.
There are two ways to prepare artichokes (we'll come back to that). You can steam or you can boil. Before steaming or boiling, some people cut. That's a sign of a novice. The leaves can have sharp points when they're uncooked. Those ease down when they're cooked. You don't need to cut a thing. (And if I eat them in Monterey, they're served with no cutting done to them.) But some people do feel the need to cut the leaves. It's a waste of time (and will turn the artichoke an ugly brown if you're steaming them) but do as you please. Now the stalk sometimes has tiny leaves on it. You can pull those off if you want before cooking.
You can use plain water for steaming or boiling or you can add garlic to it or lemon, a bay leaf -- all three. I generally just keep it simple and boil them and I boil them in plain water. 25 to 45 minutes is considered the standard. I'll assume you know how to steam. (We've gone over that before.) On boiling, you want the water to cover the artichoke.
But . . .
I buy big ones sometimes and unless I haul out the stock pot, I'm not going to be able to cover them. Say I use the dutch oven, the water's not going to cover it. That's fine. Just make a point to have it on its side and to flip it at some point during the boiling.
"I've boiled it for 30 minutes, now what?"
I use tongs to remove it from the dutch oven and do that slowly to allow the water to drain. You can put it on a plate or in a bowl. You'll need another bowl. For mayonnaise or butter. I did not know about mayo until I was at C.I.'s one summer and they were served that way by C.I.'s incredible house keeper (that woman can cook, she puts every one to shame). What you'll do is take a leaf off (you'll start at the easy to remove ones in the top layer. You'll remove it by the tip that sticks out. You'll hold it by that tip and dip the other end, the wide end, into butter or mayo. (You don't have to dip. I've boiled artichokes for lunch before, put them in a plastic ziplock bag, taken them onto work and eaten them plain. They're very sweet.)
So you'll just remove one leaf after another. You dip, then you put it between your teeth with the fleshy underneath side facing down and you bite down mid-way or 2/3s into the leaf and pull it out of your mouth so that your teeth catch the fleshy parts.
You can go through all the leaves that way. But when I get to the very bottom ones, I generally just chew the whole leaves in my mouth (not pulling them out) because they're so thin.
You've probably heard of those, maybe bought them marinated in a jar.
The heart of the artichoke is what the stem leads to.
When you've eaten as many of the leaves as you're going to, you can slice the remaining leaves off at the bottom, cut off the stalk and then quarter the remainder (that's the heart and dip it in).
I don't do that. I eat the stalk when I'm done with the leaves. (Unless it's tough and sometimes you get that. If that's the case, I cut off the stalk.) Then I generally nibble around the top of the heart. You only eat the fleshy part on top. Under that top layer, you'll see all these silky things. Don't eat them.
You may get some in your mouth and you'll see why I tell you not to eat them. You'll feel like a cat with a fur ball. It's not poisonous and it's nor harmful. You just don't want it in your mouth.
Okay, I told you that's how to fix them, two ways.
The California Artichoke Advisory Board has a list of recipes. Some are dips you can dip the leaves and the heart in. Some are casseroles. I've never had an artichoke casserole.
Artichoke's are really tasty. I can eat one all by myself. But you can share one.
I wouldn't keep them for more than a few days. If you do, keep them dry. If they get moist, they will get moldy. (Visibly, it won't be hidden, you'll be able to see it.) For a person cooking it just for themselves, I'd say four was more than enough and that you should plan to have them over a five or six day period. I would not try to stretch it to seven days (that's me). So I'd plan to have one a day if you have the bargain on them that Sue does. (4 for $3.)
One more tip. I use bowls. I have a bowl of melted butter. I have a bowl I put the artichoke in. I have an empty bowl that I put the leaves in after I've finished eating them.
On melted butter, that's how my grandparents and my parents ate them. And it's popular. When I was reading Katharine Hepburn's autobiography Me, I wasn't surprised to come across a section where she talked about eating them (since they are very good for you -- they're supposed to help with your expelling bile and help the liver and the gall bladder). She would them eat them with melted butter.
A tip on melted butter. A man e-mailed a few years back because he had 'melted' butter all in his microwave. Don't use the microwave. If you're boiling something on the stove (artichoke, corn on the cob, whatever), you can put the butter in a glass or ceramic bowl and put it in the center of the stove. Not on a burner, on the stove top. As whatever you're boiling cooks, the butter will melt. You won't end up having to clean the microwave and you'll save a little bit of electricity by not using the microwave.
Spring is a great time to try new produce. It's cheaper and you can sample. It's good for you as well. So when you're at the grocery store next, look in the produce section and see what's there, maybe try something you haven't before.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for Friday: