Artichokes are one of the oldest foods known to man. Zeus was said to have turned a scorned lover into an artichoke. They are native to the Mediterranean and were brought to the US in the 19th century by French and Spanish immigrants. Today, California is known as the Artichoke Capital of the World, with Castroville, CA calling itself the Artichoke Center of the World. In 1948, Marilyn Monroe (then Norma Jean) was crowned Castroville's 1st "Artichoke Queen." Interestingly, the artichoke, a flower, is said to be an aphrodisiac and because of this, women were prohibited from eating it until the 16th century, in many countries. Luckily for us, women can now freely consume artichokes and benefit from its lovely properties ;) - along with being an aphrodisiac, it is also known to be hepatoprotective, anticarcinogenic, antioxidative, antibacterial, and even has some anti-viral properties. Virtually fat-free, the artichoke weighs in at 25 calories (per medium artichoke) and is low in sodium. It is also a significant source of Vitamin C, folic acid (Vitamin B9) and magnesium, and like other plant based foods, rich in dietary fiber.
Cleaning and Preparing Artichokes: The most interesting fact I learnt about artichokes - when you're buying one, try pressing the bulb together, and it should talk to you :) !! The leaves squeak when they rub together and that is a good sign that it is a fresh bulb. To prepare it for cooking, wash the artichoke under cold running water, turn it upside down and give it a good shake to get rid of excess water; then dry it with a clean towel. Using a sharp Chef's knife, cut off the top inch of the artichoke - the portion where the leaves are tightly bunched together. Then, using a pair of kitchen scissors, cut off the sharp points from the remaining leaves. Now cut the bulb into quarters and scoop out all the purple leaves and the "hairs" that cover the artichoke heart. A paring knife works best at this point. Keep a bowl of water (with the juice of half a lemon) handy and as you clean up each piece, drop the cleaned pieces in it to prevents the artichokes from discoloration - which happens quite quickly upon exposure to air. Remove as many of the tough leaves - the easiest way is to simply grab each leaf, starting with the outermost and pulling downward towards the stem. Once the inner pale leaves are exposed, you're ready to do the final touch up. Use the paring knife remove any hard portions near the stem. Cut off the stem and wash well to remove any hairs clinging to the heart. I cut my artichoke into 8 wedges this evening.