Artichokes are the most imposing of all artichoke varieties, weighing in at an average of 1-2 pounds each. Its appearance is bold, its sharply tapered, thorned leaves forming a tight rounded floret. The most edible part of the Lyon artichoke is its heart. Its size qualifies it to have more heart than any other artichoke. When cooked the heart is sweet and nutty with notes of barley and butter.
The Lyon artichoke, Gros Vert de Laon, botanical name Cyrnara scolymus, is the immature flower head of an herbaceous perennial thistle plant and member of the Aster, Asteraceae family, also known as the Compositae family. When you eat an artichoke, you are eating in essence a flower bud. The first mature harvest of artichokes is known as the Kings, as it produces the largest-sized florets. Subsequent production will produce smaller flowering heads.
Almost all parts of the artichoke plant are rendered useful. The leaves produce an extract that was historically substituted for quinine. They have also been used as a substitute for hops in beer making. The entire plant is used as feedstock and turned into the soil as organic matter.
Artichokes are inherently high in fiber and low in calories. They are loaded with nutrients and phytochemicals known to contribute to the prevention of certain types of heart disease, cancer, and birth defects.
The Lyon artichoke is substantial enough that it can be used for several applications. It can be steamed and braised. It should be partially steamed just to infuse it with enough moisture prior to roasting or grilling. Though the leaves are edible, the artichoke can be trimmed down to the heart and bottom. The artichoke hearts should be stored in a brine solution of water, lemon juice and sea salt prior to cooking to prevent the flesh from browning. Cooked artichoke hearts can be pureed into sauces and soups.
They can also be used in salads, as a pizza topping or pasta ingredient. Complimentary pairings include citrus, garlic, olives and olive oil, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, chiles, bacon, proscuitto, poultry, truffles, morels, and woodsy mushrooms, cheeses such as feta, chevre and pecorino, pistachios, pine nuts, pepitas, red wine and balsamic vinegar and salad greens such as mesclin, arugula and butter lettuce.
The Ultimate Stuffed Artichoke Recipe
- 2 large, washed and dried artichokes (Lyons if possible — about 1-pound each)
- Juice of 3 lemons, divided (about ½ cup)
- ½ cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- ⅓ cup dry white wine
- 4 cups fresh bread crumbs
- ¼ cup finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fill a steamer pot with a few inches of water, and place a steamer basket on top. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Turn the heat to low and let it simmer.
- Use a Chef’s knife to cut off about 1-inch from the top of each artichoke, and enough off of the bottom to form a nice base. Remove any especially tough outer leaves and discard them. Then use kitchen scissors to cut off the sharp tips of the leaves.
- Using your hands, carefully pull the leaves away from the middle of the artichoke — just enough so that you can see down to the choke. Now use a spoon to reach down and gently scrape away and discard all of the fuzz, to reveal a clean heart. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice over each one.
- Place the artichokes, stem-end up, in the steamer basket, cover, and steam until they are almost as tender as you like them, about 20 minutes. (They’ll finish cooking in the oven.) Check for doneness by pulling off an outer leaf — it should come off fairly easily. Set them aside to cool.
- While the artichokes are steaming, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over low-medium heat. Let it simmer until it begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Pour in about ⅓ cup of lemon juice and the wine. Stir and let this simmer on low heat for about 4 minutes. Add the bread crumbs and parsley, stir to blend and remove from the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper , and set aside to cool.
- Place the artichokes, sitting on their bases, in a baking dish.
- Use a spoon and/or your hands to carefully fill the center of each artichoke with the stuffing — fill it to maximum capacity! Then fill all of the spaces between the leaves as much as possible. Sprinkle the top of each one with about half of the Parmesan.
- Place the stuffed artichokes in the preheated 375 degree F oven and bake until the breadcrumbs are golden and the cheese has melted, 15 to 20 minutes.
- You can serve them whole as an entrée, or slice them in half for an appetizer.