Power Food: Veggie with a Heart
Despite its tough exterior, the artichoke is a nutritional powerhouse that's tender to the core.
DID YOU KNOW?
A member of the sunflower family, the artichoke is a flowering plant believed to be native to the Mediterranean region of southern Europe. Considered a delicacy by the ancient Greeks and Romans, artichokes first made their way to the United States in the early 1800s when they were grown by the French in Louisiana and, later that century, by the Spanish in California. Today the Golden State produces more than 99 percent of our country’s crop.
Although artichoke plants can grow more than three feet tall, the portion we eat is actually the plant’s immature bud, and its unique anatomy may seem intimidating: It has scaly outer petals, several rows of interior leaves, a fuzzy, inedible "choke" and a tender, fleshy "heart" inside. Once it’s cooked, dip the leaves in sauce or melted butter and use your teeth to scrape off the tender meat at the base of each leaf- you’ll be rewarded with increasing amounts of meat as you move inward toward the delicious "heart."
Ancient Mediterranean civilizations believed artichokes had medicinal powers, and they were onto something. The plants boast high levels of vitamin C, fiber, folate and potassium and are a rich source of antioxidants such as silymarin, which some studies suggest may be useful in treating liver diseases, and cynarin, which aids the digestion of fats. In fact, on the United States Department of Agriculture’s list of the top 20 antioxidant-rich foods, artichokes rank seventh overall and hold the top spot among veggies. For those watching their diets, artichokes are also cholesterol- and fat-free, with just 60 calories for a medium-sized cooked whole artichoke (that’s not including sauce or melted butter, of course).
BUY – STORE – GROW
Although you can purchase artichokes any time of year at your local grocery store, their peak season is from March to May. Select artichokes that are deep green and heavy for their size, with tightly packed leaves; pass on those that appear dry or brownish in color. Although the plants thrive in frost-free areas and cannot be grown as perennials in the Northeast, certain new varieties can be grown as annuals in new Jersey, and recent Rutgers University research has shown it’s possible to grow artichokes in home gardens in our state. To store fresh artichokes, place them unwashed in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to four days; cooked artichokes can be refrigerated for about four days or frozen for six to eight months.
Keep Reading for Delicious Artichoke Recipes.
Lasagna with Artichokes
This recipe comes from our Editor-in-Chief, Jennifer Vreeland, whose dinner party guests always request this dish and never allow her any leftovers.
For the lasagna:
- 2 (8-ounce) packages frozen artichokes hearts
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 ounces white wine
- 6 ounces chicken broth
- 3 gloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 ½ cup shredded Swiss cheese
- ½ cup grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup diced imported ham (optional)
- ¾ pounds lasagna
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
For the béchamel:
- 4 tablespoons salted butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 cups milk
To make the béchamel:
- Melt butter in a saucepan.
- With a whisk, blend in flour.
- Slowly pour milk into flour and butter mixture, constantly whisking to incorporate.
- Whisk in salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Heat to just boiling while stirring with the whisk. Sauce will thicken as it reaches boiling point.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
To cook and assemble the lasagna:
- Chop frozen artichokes and set aside.
- Mix the three cheeses in a separate bowl and set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a pan and add diced onion and minced garlic, sauté for 3 minutes.
- Add the artichokes, wine, chicken broth, ¼ cup parsley, salt and pepper.
- Stir, and simmer uncovered approximately 10 minutes.
- Prepare lasagna al dente.
- Rinse in cold water and place one layer in a buttered baking dish. Top with layers of béchamel, chopped artichoke mixture (including the liquid), ham, and cheese mixture.
- Finish with a layer of pasta, béchamel, and top with cheese and remaining ¼ cup parsley.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
- Cool for 10 minutes before slicing.
Artichoke, Gorgonzola and Spinach Dip
Yields: 3.5 cups
- 2 (10-ounce) boxes chopped frozen spinach
- 1 box frozen artichoke hearts
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup milk
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Pinch ground nutmeg, or to taste
- 1 cup Gorgonzola crumbles
- 1 ½ cups shredded Asiago or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Thick sesame breadsticks, for dipping
- Celery hearts, trimmed for dipping
- Pita crisps with Parmesan and herbs
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Defrost spinach 10 minutes on defrost setting in microwave, then drain well by wringing out in dishtowel.
- Defrost artichokes 6 minutes on defrost in microwave, then wring out and finely chop.
- Heat a saucepot with butter over medium to medium-high heat.
- Add garlic to melted butter and stir 1 to 2 minutes, then sprinkle in flour and combine 1 minute more.
- Whisk in stock and milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Thicken 2 minutes, then remove from heat and melt in Gorgonzola.
- Stir in spinach and artichokes and half the shredded cheese, then transfer to a small casserole pan and top with remaining cheese.
- Brown and bubble in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes.
- Serve with breadsticks, celery hearts and pita crisps for dipping.