Artichokes as an appetizer or side dish provide a powerful nutritional punch. According to Artichokes.org, one large artichoke contains only 25 calories, no fat, 170 milligrams of potassium and is a good source of vitamin C, folate, magnesium and dietary fiber, in addition to a large amount of antioxidants, in the form of phytonutrients. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ranks artichokes as the No. 1 vegetable in antioxidant count. Not only are artichokes extremely healthy to eat, they're also fun to eat when served in creative ways.
"We used to make artichokes as a side dish for Thanksgiving, but when we saw them offered as a ritzy restaurant's appetizer with a fabulous trio of sauces, we decided to make them more often and in new ways," says mom of three Elizabeth Varey. "The kids are more likely to eat greens that are fun to dip."
*Pick a Shape
You could serve a whole artichoke, stuffed in the center and in each leaf, or you could cut an artichoke in half -- down the middle -- filling the entire center like a stuffed baked potato. Or you could quarter large or small artichokes and serve them baked, with stuffing in the centers.
Artichoke hearts may be served in chunks, especially when marinated and served Mediterranean-style with additional marinated vegetables, such as carrots and onions. The artichoke hearts and vegetables may be your appetizer on their own, added as a topper to salads or mixed with tortellini as a veggie-filled pasta course.
Baked artichoke heart sections can be topped with spinach and Brie or with homemade or store-bought artichoke and spinach dip.
*Pick a Stuffing
Traditional Italian artichoke stuffing consists of Italian breadcrumbs, oregano, parsley, Parmesan cheese and a large amount of diced, fresh garlic. After you snip the spiny ends off each leaf, you'll hollow out the artichoke, carefully remove the spiny leaves inside the artichoke, rinse it well and let it drain dry upside down for a few minutes. Then stuff the hollow center with stuffing. You can then place a sprinkling of stuffing or just diced garlic in each leaf, and then steam the artichokes until the leaves are tender.
Add some art to your artichoke stuffing; mix in some chopped vegetables or bits of crab or lobster meat before steaming your completed, filled artichoke.
Find additional artichoke stuffing recipes at recipe websites -- such as Allrecipes.com, FoodNetwork.com, Recipes.com and BHG.com -- and experiment with different stuffing additions, such as switching to Cajun spices, curry or other flavor profiles. As a chef's tip, when you remove your artichoke from the steamer, it's then possible to top your artichoke with goat cheese or fontina cheese, which will melt into the stuffing center.
*Serve the Perfect Dips
Follow the restaurant trend and provide gourmet dipping sauces -- several of them -- with your artichoke - portions or stuffed leaves -- arranged on a platter for easier serving. Here are some ideas for mild to spicy artichoke dips, each served in matching personal ramekins per guest:
--Thousand Island dressing.
--Spinach and artichoke dip (right from the jar is perfectly OK).
--Warm queso dip.
--Classic hummus dip.
--Flavored hummus dip, such as lemon, jalapeno, roasted red pepper or other flavors.
--Homemade specialty dips from the top recipe sites: mayonnaise, garlic, Worcester sauce, artichoke and zucchini dip, crab and jalapeno dip, and more.
An entire table of family or guests can share a large, lush artichoke. But you can also add some artistry to your presentation by centering your stuffed artichoke -- or several artichokes -- on a large serving platter, surrounded by additional stuffed vegetables. These may include mushrooms stuffed with Brie and crab or with artichoke and spinach dip; small baked round potatoes, carefully hollowed out and stuffed with artisan cheese and crispy pancetta or bacon; stuffed jalapenos; and stuffed cherry tomatoes. That creates a bounty of stuffed-vegetable goodness packed with nutrients and antioxidants.
If you're looking for variety in your family's greens consumption or a new way to wow your friends with your holiday dinner courses or a new dish for book club or a cocktail party, artichokes and all of their many presentations and tastes can be the perfect food for you.