I have what I endearingly call a delicate palate, while others might say I am a picky eater. Like my son Sawyer, I have to try things in my own time, and only now as I approach my 40s am I more inclined to try new foods. For years I would see artichokes on menus, at dinner parties and always avoid them. Absolutely nothing about them appealed to me until one hot day in Spain when I was sitting with a group of friends, nursing the most fabulous bottle of Rioja did the mood strike me to reach across the table and try my first leaf. It was love at first bite, my appetite was insatiable, and I spent the length of that summer buying them at every opportunity never doubting for a second why the Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy worthy of only the grandest celebrations.
There are more than 140 artichoke varieties but less than 40 are grown commercially. Today most artichokes grown worldwide are cultivated in France, Italy, and Spain, while California provides nearly 100 percent of the United States crop. Rich in Vitamins B5, B3, biotin, folate, potassium, cynarin and zinc, artichokes are full of antioxidants, making them one of the popular super foods nutritionists are often encouraging us to reach for.
A good artichoke will speak to you: Or rather squeak. Rub the exterior of an artichoke, if it is heavy with tightly packed leaves and offers a squeak when rubbed, it is perfect for eating. Like all stock vegetables, avoid drooping, soft or brown pigmented produce, these are tell tell signs that it is dry, frost damaged or has had a considerably long shelf life.
Storage: Before storing your artichokes in the refrigerator, cut the end of the stem off, and sprinkle the new exposed stem with water and refrigerate in an airtight plastic bag; cook within 5 days of purchasing.
Labor of Love: Preparing an artichoke is anything but quick. But the laborious nature of cooking them is rhythmic and cheaper than therapy. Always remove the outer shell and the top of the bud, these areas are not digestible and frankly add nothing of value to the heart of the artichoke. Once the outside is clean and trim, remove the thistle that resides in the center of a medium to large sized artichoke before cooking.
Keep them beautiful: Artichokes turn brown when exposed to air, avoid this by allowing them to rest in a large bowl filled with water and lemon juice until you are ready to cook them.
Wine Pairing: Ironically, artichokes and wine do not play well together. The science behind the acid in the artichoke unsettles the balance of the wine (clearly I had no problem with this the first time I tried an artichoke), choose your pairing well, or better yet, reserve the wine for after the artichoke has been served.
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