After a brief return to winter-like weather, Michigan appears to be back on track for spring! Daffodils and crocuses are blooming, trees are just beginning to leaf out, and a vast array of spring produce is gracing the aisles of local markets. Artichokes, dense little packages of fiber, antioxidants, and other powerful nutrients, are at their tastiest and most nutritious in springtime. Ranked 7th in total antioxidant capacity out of more than 1000 fruits, vegetables, and other common foods (US Department of Agriculture, 2007 study), this is one nutritional powerhouse worth getting to know!
What exactly is under that bristly exterior? Artichokes contain healthy amounts of potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, and several B vitamins, including folate. One artichoke provides 28% of the Daily Value of folate, a B vitamin thought to help prevent neural tube birth defects, and to lower homocysteine levels for improved cardiovascular health. One large artichoke also contains 10.3 grams of dietary fiber (about 1/3 of the DV), which helps maintain cardiovascular and digestive health, lowers cholesterol, and may help prevent certain types of cancer. Artichokes are also loaded with an impressive variety of phytonutrients, plant compounds with antioxidant properties, including quercetin, rutin, anhocyanins, gallic acid, luteolin, cynarin, caffeic acid, and silymarin. These powerful polyphenol antioxidants provide protection against heart disease and cancer and also appear to aid digestion, lower cholesterol, improve liver function, and aid detoxification. Current research suggests that artichokes may even be effective in reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)!
Despite the impressive nutritional portfolio, I must admit that I’ve always been intimidated by artichokes. If I needed artichokes for a recipe, I depended on frozen or canned, which are readily available in most markets. Don’t get me wrong…frozen and canned artichokes are an excellent and fast choice for many recipes, but it turns out that the bulk of the nutrition is packed into the artichoke leaves, not the heart! I decided this would be a perfect time to master the art of art of artichoke preparation…and in the process I discovered just how delicious steamed artichoke can be! To see a great demonstration, visit http://www.oceanmist.com/products/how-to-prepare/how-to-prepare-an-artichoke.aspx or enter artichoke preparation into your favorite search engine. Let’s start our cooking journey with simple steamed artichoke. Artichokes can also be boiled, baked, roasted, or grilled, but steaming retains the most water-soluble folic acid. Steamed artichokes are traditionally served with dipping sauces made with either melted butter or mayonnaise. Try one or two of the healthier alternatives below and see how nicely they pair with the subtle flavor of the artichoke.
SIMPLE STEAMED WHOLE ARTICHOKES
Begin by cutting off the top inch of the artichoke “flower” as well as the top inch of the stem. Using kitchen scissors, snip off the tip of each leaf. Gently spread the leaves to allow steam and seasonings to reach into the choke. Rub lemon over cut surfaces or place artichokes in lemon water until ready to cook. Place in a steamer basket over water. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until stem is easily pierced with a fork. Put artichoke into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Herbs and seasonings can be added to the water prior to cooking and will infuse into the artichoke flesh. Cooked artichokes can be stored in the refrigerator for several days.
HERB-LEMON DIPPING SAUCE
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (when using zest, choose organic fruit if possible)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Â½ teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced parsley
2 teaspoons minced chives
Â½ teaspoon kosher salt
Â¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Additional herbs to taste such as mint or tarragon, optional
6 tablespoons organic extra-virgin olive oil
Mix all ingredients together and whisk in oil. Serving size=2 tablespoons, 194 calories, 21g fat
2 cloves garlic, roasted and smashed
Â½ cup silken tofu
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Mix together all ingredients.
Steam whole artichoke. Coarsely chop tender parts of the leaves and heart. Toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve on top of fish or chicken.
ARTICHOKE SOUP WITH PESTO (adapted from Bon Appetit, September, 2008)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped, divided
1 large onion, chopped
2 (8-ounce) packages frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
2 Â½ cups or more low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Puree 3 tablespoons oil, cheese, basil, and Â¼ teaspoon chopped garlic in processor until smooth. Season pesto with salt and pepper (or use prepared pesto). Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 6 minutes. Add remaining garlic, stir for 30 seconds. Add artichokes and 2 Â½ cups broth. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until artichokes are soft, about 7 minutes. Puree soup in blender or in pot using immersion blender Thin with additional broth if desired. Strain soup before serving. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among bowls and drizzle with pesto to serve. Makes 4 servings.
BAKED ARTICHOKE DIP (adapted from www.101cookbooks.com)
2 (14-ounce) cans water-packed artichokes, well drained
4 ounces organic silken tofu
3 large garlic cloves
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup plain yogurt, preferably Greek
Â¼ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a blender of food processor puree the artichokes, tofu, and garlic. In a separate bowl, whisk together the Parmesan cheese, yogurt, salt, and cayenne. Stir in the artichoke puree and pour mixture into a medium-sized baking dish. Sprinkle the top with more Parmesan. Bake uncovered until heated through and beginning to brown on top, about 45 minutes.
WARM SPINACH AND ARTICHOKE DIP (adapted from www.foodnetwork.com)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 (9-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, rinsed, and dried
1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed, excess liquid squeezed out
Â½ cup low fat sour cream
2 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise
Â½ cup reduced fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
Â½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Â½ teaspoon salt
Â¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook stirring occasionally, 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 3-4 minutes, or until onions are light golden, but not browned. Remove from heat and cool onion mixture. In the bowl of a food processor combine artichoke hearts, spinach, sour cream, mayo, Neufchatel, mozzarella, and salt and pepper. Process until smooth. Add cooled onion-garlic mixture to the food processor and pulse to combine. Transfer mixture to 8-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake 15-20 minutes or until heated through. Serve with veggies, whole wheat pita, or whole grain crackers.
ARTICHOKE AND TOMATO PANZANELLA(adapted from www.foodnetwork.com)
1 (10-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
3 cups whole-wheat bread, cut into 1 Â½ -inch pieces
3 large ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
Â¾ cup chopped fresh basil
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Â¼ cup white wine vinegar
Â½ teaspoons salt
Â½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place grill pan over medium-high heat or use grill. Drizzle bread and artichoke hearts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the bread and artichokes until golden brown at the edges, about 6 minutes total, turning every 2 minutes. Remove bread and artichokes and transfer to large bowl. Add the tomatoes, olives, and basil to the bowl and toss to combine. Ina small bowl stir together the olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Drizzle over salad, toss, and serve immediately.
For a lower fat alternative, try spraying the bread with cooking spray and baking it in the oven until crisp.
LINGUINE AVGOLEMONO WITH ARTICHOKE HEARTS AND GREEN BEANS
(adapted from www.epicurious.com)
3 large egg yolks
Â¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Â½ cup whipping cream
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts
8 ounces green beans or haricot vert, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 2-inch pieces
12 ounces linguine, preferably whole wheat
Â½ cup Parmesan cheese
Â¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Place yolks in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in lemon juice, then cream. Cook artichoke hearts and green beans in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, remove vegetables to large skillet. Return water to boil. Add pasta and boil until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain pasta and reserve 1 Â½ cups cooking liquid. Add pasta to skillet with vegetables. Whish Â¾ cup cooking liquid into the yolk mixture. Add yolk mixture, Parmesan, and parsley to skillet. Toss over medium heat until sauce thickens and coats pasta, about 4 minutes, adding more cooking liquid by tablespoons if dry. Season with salt and pepper.
ARTICHOKE AND SUN-DRIED TOMATO STUFFED CHICKEN BREAST (adapted from www.foodnetwork.com)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Â½ cup chopped red onion
Â¾ cup chopped marinated artichoke hearts
Â½ cup chopped marinated sun-dried tomatoes
Â½ teaspoon salt
Â½ teaspoon fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Â½ cup white wine, divided
3 tablespoons organic butter, divided
Â¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Â½ tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
In sauté pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon oil. When oil is hot add onions and sauté until translucent. Stir in the artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes. Saute for 3-5 minutes, then add salt, pepper, and garlic. When garlic begins to lightly brown, deglaze pan with Â¼ cup white wine. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the butter, allow it to melt, then toss in the Parmesan and parsley. Remove from heat and allow to cool before stuffing the chicken breast. Rinse, trim, and pound chicken breasts to Â¼-inch thickness. Put Â¼ of the stuffing mixture at 1 end of a chicken breast. Gently roll the chicken, folding the end in to keep stuffing in place during cooking. Secure with toothpicks. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium sauté pan over high heat. Add the chicken breasts, secured side down first, to help keep roll together. Brown on all sides, add remaining butter, and deglaze with remaining white wine. (Not sure how good a quality of wine to use? The rule of thumb is, if you don’t like the taste of a wine to drink, you won’t like the taste of it in cooking!) Reduce heat to low and cover the pan. Cook until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees on and instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes. Place chicken on cutting board, remove toothpicks, and slice each breast into 5 pieces. Transfer to serving platter, drizzle with remaining pan drippings, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese or parsley to garnish.