ARTICHOKE TIPS

Did you know that nearly two-thirds of the world's artichokes are grown in Monterey County? The tiny town of Castroville in particular is full of artichoke fields dubbing it the “Artichoke Capital of the World.”

Artichoke fanatics can get their fill of this leafy green every May at the Monterey County Fair & Event Center. The two-day Artichoke Festival hosts all sorts of Artichoke related activities including cooking demos, artichoke-themed art and souvenirs, an artichoke parade, artichokes (and other vegetables) for sale at the farmers' market, a wine exposition and more.

Your first experience with an artichoke may be intimidating but don't let the unusual exterior fool you. The heart of the artichoke is incredibly tender and juicy when prepared correctly. Here are some tips and tricks on how to fully enjoy these strange looking thistle.

How to Choose an Artichoke

California artichokes are available in most markets all year, with the peak season in the spring - March, April and May.

In spring and winter, look for artichokes that are compact, firm and heavy for their size; summer and fall artichokes tend to be flared and conical in shape. Choose spring and summer artichokes with an even green color. Fall and winter artichokes may be touched by frost - winter-kissed with a whitish, blistered appearance - and show light bronze to brown on the outer leaves. These are often tender and tasty, and considered to be premier artichokes.

Artichokes come in sizes ranging from baby to jumbo and are all mature when picked. Small, or baby, artichokes weigh 1 to 2 ounces each and are ideal for appetizers, stews or sautés. When properly trimmed, every part is edible.

Medium artichokes weigh 8 to 10 ounces each. They are best served with a dip; stuffed with a hot or cold filling of meat, vegetables or salad; or trimmed, sliced and sautéed or stir-fried.

Large artichokes weigh 15 to 20 ounces each. This size is usually stuffed as an entrée or served as a shared appetizer with a dip for two to four people.

How to Store an Artichoke

Sprinkle fresh California artichokes with water, package in an airtight plastic bag and refrigerate. Cooked artichokes should be cooled completely and refrigerated, covered. Cooked or raw artichokes will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.

How to Cook Artichokes

Artichokes may look intimidating, but cooking them is easy once you've got the knack! Once you've mastered the simplest ways of preparing an artichoke, try one of our local chefs' artichoke recipes.

Prepare

Before you cook the artichoke, you will need to prepare it. If the artichoke still has its stem, cut the stem off at the base, leaving a flat spot on which the artichoke can sit while cooking. (If you peel the outer skin off the stem, you can cook and eat that, too!)

Cut off the sharp leaf tips - roughly the top half-inch to inch of the artichoke - with a serrated blade. Place your thumbs in the center and force the leaves to open. This will open out the artichoke and allow it to cook more effectively. Just don't get stuck by the pointy leaves at the center!

If you have a melon baller, you can use this to scoop out the choke (the furry bit) in the center. If not, wait until the artichoke is cooked; the choke will be easy to remove with a spoon.

Boil

Stand prepared artichoke in deep saucepan or pot with 3 inches boiling water. (If desired, oil, lemon juice and seasonings can be added to cooking water.) Cover and boil gently 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size, or until petal near center pulls out easily. Stand artichoke upside down to drain.

Steam

Place prepared artichoke on rack above boiling water. Cover and steam 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size, or until petal near center pulls out easily.

How to Eat an Artichoke

The artichoke's greatest claim to fame is its position at the top of the finger-food chain! It is both proper and polite to pluck the leaves with your fingers, leaving fork and knife aside.

California artichokes may be served hot or cold. To eat, pull off outer petals one at a time. Dip base of petal into sauce or melted butter; pull through teeth to remove soft, pulpy portion of petal. Discard remaining petal. The result is a mouthful of savory artichoke: perfectly polite, and downright delicious! Go ahead, try it!

Continue until all petals have been removed. Spoon out fuzzy center at base; discard. The bottom, or heart, of the artichoke is entirely edible. Cut into small pieces and dip into sauce.

Nutrient Value

A 12-ounce artichoke contains only 25 calories, no fat, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 185 milligrams of potassium and is low in sodium. It is a significant source of vitamin C, folic acid and magnesium.
are said to be aphrodisiacs.

Technically, an artichoke is a flower.

In full growth, an artichoke plant can spread nine feet in diameter and stand five feet tall, and one plant can produce over 20 artichokes a year.

Baby artichokes are simply normal artichoke buds that grow lower on primary artichoke stalks.

Americans are divided on the artichoke's favorite sidekick. Eastern state residents prefer butter while Western region residents opt for mayonnaise or aioli (garlic mayonnaise).

Artichokes are a significant source of vitamin C, folic acid and magnesium. Virtually fat-free, the artichoke weighs in at 25 calories (per medium artichoke) and is low in sodium.

Fun Facts about Artichokes

  • Artichokes are one of the oldest foods known to man. Zeus was said to have turned a scorned lover into an artichoke.
  • In 1948, a young Marilyn Monroe (then Norma Jean) was crowned Castroville's first "Artichoke Queen."
  • Artichokes are said to be aphrodisiacs.
  • Technically, an artichoke is a flower.
  • In full growth, an artichoke plant can spread nine feet in diameter and stand five feet tall, and one plant can produce over 20 artichokes a year.
  • Baby artichokes are simply normal artichoke buds that grow lower on primary artichoke stalks.
  • Americans are divided on the artichoke's favorite sidekick. Eastern state residents prefer butter while Western region residents opt for mayonnaise or aioli (garlic mayonnaise).
  • Artichokes are a significant source of vitamin C, folic acid and magnesium. Virtually fat-free, the artichoke weighs in at 25 calories (per medium artichoke) and is low in sodium.

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