Sunday, May 1, 2011

PASTAabilities: I’m all choked up…

If you are like me, you love vegetables but want them to be easy and readily available to eat. I prep my vegetables when I come home from the store for easy cooking during the work week. However, there is one spring vegetable that cannot be prepped ahead of time, but it’s well worth the effort: artichokes!

Why have you done a good thing?

I used to find artichokes incredibly intimidating, but I learned that not only are they delicious, but extremely healthy. Artichokes are a great source of folate, potassium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C and magnesium! One large artichoke has 6 g of fiber and only 60 calories! What a great BANG for your BITE!

Artichokes are also arguably the vegetable with the highest source of antioxidants. Specifically, research shows that artichoke leaves contain cynarin, a powerful antioxidant, that helps to decrease your LDL cholesterol by increasing the excretion of cholesterol from your body and decreasing the amount of LDL cholesterol your liver naturally makes. Artichokes also help out the liver by containing milk thistle, which helps the liver protect itself from dangerous toxins. Artichokes have also been shown to help alleviate symptoms of IBS and stabilize blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

But how to do you prep an artichoke?

Although artichokes seem intimidating, they are very manageable. You can eat an artichoke in 2 forms: 1) In its whole form (possibly stuffed), where you eat it by pulling off the leaves one by one and dipping them in sauces; 2) Completely cleaned and only the choke or artichoke heart (AKA the middle part of the artichoke) is consumed, chopped up and added to dishes.

Check out these two step-by-step guides to learn how to clean and prep artichokes, so you can eat them anyway you want:

Check out this video on how to clean and prep an artichoke in its whole form.

If you want to get to the choke or artichoke heart, use this step by step website:

No time to prep a whole artichoke?

That’s OK because now food manufacturers have caught on to this and sell frozen artichoke hearts, ready to cook! I always keep a package of frozen artichoke hearts in my freezer for easy weeknight cooking.

Healthy Artichokes Recipe Ideas:

1) Steam them up whole and dip the fleshy part of the leaves in pesto, garlic or herb infused olive oil, or Greek yogurt

2) Stuff an artichoke with diced onions, peppers, and carrots, top with olive oil, whole wheat bread crumbs, and couple tablespoons of fresh parmesan cheese and bake!

3) Add artichoke hearts to your next salad.

4) Take artichokes out to the grill. Cut a whole artichoke in half and grill with fresh lemon juice and olive oil.

5) Blend together artichoke hearts, parsley, lemon juice, salt, pepper, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and garlic together in a food processor. Slowly add in olive oil to make a delicious pesto sauce! Spread on bread or fresh veggies at parties, add to a sandwich, or mix with pasta!

6) Add artichoke hearts to your next chicken or fish dish.

7) Try this PASTAabilities recipe for artichokes:

Weeknight Artichoke Penne (serves 4-6) (click here for a printable version + a grocery list of this recipe)

½ lb (or ½ box) whole-wheat penne

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

6 cloves of garlic, minced

½ tsp salt

1/8 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 white wine (suggest Pinot Grigio)

1, 9 ounce box frozen artichoke hearts

1 cup frozen peas

¼ cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated

Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Boil a pot of water and cook penne until just short of al dente. Reserve one cup of starchy cooking water (the water that the pasta cooked in). Set aside.

In a large skillet on a low flame, heat the olive oil, garlic together for a couple of minutes. Add the artichoke hearts, salt, red pepper flakes, wine and cook covered until hearts are tender (about 5 minutes). Add the peas and cook for about 3 more minutes covered. Uncover and add the pasta, starchy cooking water into the skillet. Add the grated parmesan cheese. When cheese has melted and sauce has thickened slightly (about 2 minutes), plate and serve! Top with fresh basil leaves. Serve with a side salad for good portion control.

--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN

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