Artichokes are a nutritious and versatile spring vegetable, yet many people shy away from them. Italians, on the other hand, love their artichokes in a thousand ways. The prized section of the artichoke is the soft inner heart, exposed once cleaned and trimmed down. It has a buttery, smooth texture. And off-season, when you can’t get the fresh version, there are always artichoke hearts preserved in oil or vinegar. Unlike fresh artichokes, jarred artichokes can be enjoyed year-round and are a great option for the home cook that hasn’t mastered the technique of preparing fresh artichokes, or for people that are pressed for time. (A visit to any supermarket in Italy entails exploring shelves filled with all sorts of vegetables submerged in olive oil.)
The artichokes can be used on antipasti platters, in pasta sauces, as a topping on pizza, and much more. For a boost of flavor, I like to sauté the hearts in the skillet before using them in a recipe.
Italians have a long history of preserving and canning vegetables for the winter months. Submerging vegetables in olive oil or vinegar extends their lifespan and prevents deterioration and mold from forming. In fact, this practice is especially common in Southern Italian regions, which are known around the world for their high-quality fresh and marinated artichokes. In the early twentieth century, Italians from these regions who immigrated and settled in California started growing artichokes, which were then unknown to Americans. From that time on, California became renowned for its artichoke production.
Preserved artichoke hearts are typically canned or sold in jars. Although more affordable, canned artichokes are high in sodium and tend to be soggy and less flavorful, so I recommend using jarred artichokes packed in olive oil when possible. You can even use the oil as a salad dressing! If you do choose to buy canned artichokes, rinse them before use to reduce the sodium content. And, of course, anyone can make their own jarred artichoke hearts at home. Though time consuming, it is worth the effort. Just remember to sterilize the jars before canning!