The Anatomy of an Artichoke

Published on Wednesday, 19 March 2014 00:03 - Written by Christine Gardner

 This large flower-like vegetable with its prickly petals and multiple layers can be an overwhelming sight when approached by the home cook. 

Many questions arise.

What part is edible?

How do I get to what is edible?

How much of it needs to be discarded?

How many hearts does it contain?

How do I cook it?

Why can’t I just buy it frozen or in a can?

While the canned and frozen options offer convenience and versatility, the fresh artichokes possess better flavor and texture.

In the past, you could only find cans of artichoke hearts, six to ten in each can, and they were expensive.

Artichokes have become more popular, so it’s easy to find artichoke bottoms, chopped artichokes, whole hearts or quarters in a jar or can and in the freezer section.

Marinated hearts are often on the olive bar and quartered hearts are a common ingredient in many pastas, salads and pizzas.

It’s no longer just an ingredient in a well-known dip, but there’s nothing wrong with eating it that way either.

Artichokes are a member of the sunflower family and a variety of the thistle plant. If left to grow, the pointy outer leaves would open up to reveal the purple center of the flower, or choke, that sits atop the artichoke’s heart.

The large globe artichokes are located on top of the plant and receive the most sun. The baby artichokes aren’t actually a baby, or small variety. Instead they are buds lower on the plant that don’t fully develop because they are shaded by the plants leaves and don’t receive enough light.

Some very young baby artichokes (purple or green) may be tender enough to eat whole. When prepping baby artichokes, there’s no choke to remove and they usually have a larger heart portion than bigger artichokes. Just peel away any tough outer leaves, trim and peel the stem, if necessary. Snip off the pointed ends of the leaves. Then drop the trimmed artichokes in an lemon water bath to prevent discoloration.

Peak season for artichokes is March through May, and then again in the fall. Choose artichokes that feel firm and heavy for their size (globe or baby.) The leaves should be tightly closed. If they’ve begun to open it is past its prime. Blemishes and tears on outer leaves are okay since those will be discarded.

Some find that the purple artichokes taste a little different than the green and have a stronger, artichoke flavor. 


Trimming a Whole Artichoke: 

(Photo shows a whole artichoke before and after trimming.)

Wash the Artichoke

Cut one inch off top of globe

Trim and peel stem and lower leaves

Remove tough outer leaves

Snip off tops of all remaining leaves

Rub lemon over all cut edges

Using a grapefruit spoon or small teaspoon insert spoon through the top, and dig out the fibrous, middle of the choke. Discard all of the fibers.

Rub lemon juice on the inside of the choke and set on top of a lemon slice until ready to cook. Artichokes brown faster than any other vegetable.


Trimming for an Artichoke Bottom

Cut off stem flush with the bottom of the artichoke

Break off outer leaves and remove additional leaves until the tender base of the artichoke is revealed.

Trim off the green outer peel to give the base a smooth, round appearance.

Using a melon baller or teaspoon, scrape out the fuzzy choke.

Place in a bowl of acidulated (lemon) water until ready to use.


Trimming for Artichoke Hearts, Quarters or Slices:

Follow the above steps for trimming Artichoke Bottoms (hearts and bottoms are interchangeable terms), but leave the top portion of the stem intact.

When bottom and partial stem remain, it can then be sliced horizontally, vertically or cut into quarters.

A note on hearts versus bottoms, the heart is a portion of the fleshy artichoke base including the attached tender pale leaves; the bottom is the entire base without the leaves or any of the stem.


Cooking Tips:

Cook in stainless steel, glass or ceramic to prevent discoloration and off-flavors.

Soaking artichokes in acidulated water for an hour before cooking will improve their color and tenderness.

Whole artichokes can be steamed, roasted, baked or boiled.

In the oven, without liquid, wrap artichokes individually and loosely in foil, but with tight seams. Cook at 425 degrees until a knife easily pierces the bottom of the artichoke.

In the oven, with liquid and other ingredients, cook at 350 degrees until the artichoke can be easily pierced with a knife. (Similar to braising.)

In a pan, add enough water to cover the artichokes by two inches. Season the water with salt, pepper or other seasoning.

To steam, place in a basket over a few inches of water. Steam for about 20 minutes. Avoid checking for doneness as steam will escape.


How to Eat a Whole Artichoke:

After cooking, break off the leaves one by one and draw the base of the leaf through your teeth to extract the ‘meat’ of the leaf. Discard the remainder of the leaf.

The individual leaves may be dipped in melted butter or sauce.

What will remain, after all the leaves have gone, is the tender base, or heart.

Cut into pieces and eat that portion, as well.


Artichokes in Garlic & Olive Oil



4 globe artichokes, trimmed

2 garlic cloves

olive oil, see directions

salt and pepper



Place the artichokes in a tall pan. Add the garlic and pour in a mixture of two parts olive oil and one part water until the artichokes are two-thirds covered. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes.

Recipe from “The Silver Spoon Cookbook”


Sautéed Artichoke Hearts



6 globe artichokes, trimmed down to hearts

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced


red pepper flakes or black pepper

1/4 cup water or dry white wine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley, thyme or tarragon (your preference)



Slice the hearts from top to stem, about 1/4 inch thick. Place in acidulated water while prepping other ingredients. To cook the artichokes, pour the oil and sliced garlic into an unheated sauté pan that has a cover. Heat the olive oil slowly. At the same time, working relatively quickly, drain the artichokes and towel dry. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the artichoke slices, tossing them a few times in the garlic and oil, then season with salt and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes or a few turns of black pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the water or wine and the lemon juice, and cover. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 12 minutes or so, removing the lid and stirring a few times, until the artichokes are tender. They’re done when you can poke a paring knife into one and it meets no resistance. Stir in the parsley. Cook for another minute or so to get rid of any excess liquid, then remove from heat. If you want to brown the artichokes further, add a pour of olive oil and keep cooking the artichokes, stirring infrequently, until browned.

Recipe from David Leibovitz


Grilled Artichokes with Raw Tomato Compote



For the sauce:

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

2 scallions, white part only, finely chopped

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 plum tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 cup good-quality wine vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the artichokes:

4 large artichokes

2 lemons, halved

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil



Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The compote will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for 2 days. Prepare a stove-top griddle or outdoor grill. Snap off the tough outer leaves of the artichokes and discard. Rub the exposed surfaces with a lemon half. Cut off about the top third of each artichoke with a sharp knife. Trim the ends of the leaves with scissors. Trim all but 1/2 inch of the stem. Using a stainless-steel knife, pare the remaining stem. Steam the artichokes for 20 minutes. When cool, halve each and, using a melon baller, scoop out the prickly hairs, or the choke, and keep scraping until no more fuzz is apparent. Brush the halves with olive oil. Grill each side for 5 to 7 minutes, until the artichokes are nicely browned. Spoon the tomato compote into each half and serve.

Recipe from Martha Stewart


Braised Baby Purple Artichoke



1 pound baby purple artichokes

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper, ground

1/4 cup white wine

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons parsley, Italian, chopped



Wash and pat dry the baby artichokes. Trim the ends of each artichoke, remove the outer leaves and cut the artichokes in half. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil.  Place the artichokes in the oil, cut side down forming one layer and season with salt and pepper. Cook the artichokes until the oil is bubbling and hot, about 5 minutes, then add white wine, lemon juice, and garlic.  Continue cooking for 3 more minutes, then reduce heat to low, cover the skillet and cook until artichokes are fork tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and serve artichokes warm or at room temperature. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley.

Recipe from


Tequila-Lime Roasted Baby Artichokes



1 pound baby artichokes

1/2 cup mint, fresh

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 1/2 tablespoons tequila

1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice

3 teaspoons mint, fresh

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground



Wash and pat dry the baby artichokes. Trim the ends of each artichoke, remove the outer leaves and cut the artichokes in half. Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Bring 2 to 3 inches of water to boil in a pot. Add mint to the water. Add a steamer insert over the water and place the artichokes into the steamer basket. Cover tightly, and steam until just tender, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Cool slightly, drain well and coat artichokes evenly with olive oil. Arrange artichokes in a single layer on a roasting pan and bake for 7 to 8 minutes. While artichokes roast, whisk together mayonnaise, 1 1/2 tablespoons tequila, lime juice, 3 teaspoons chopped fresh mint, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Remove artichokes from the oven and season with salt and pepper. Place artichokes on a serving plate. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon tequila. Serve artichokes warm or at room temperature with dipping sauce.

Recipe from