Stop Throwing Out Artichoke Stems And Cook With Them Instead

Most produce has some part of it that needs to be cut off or removed before eating: Strawberry leaves, banana peels, avocado pits, you name it. But the artichoke is rare in that most of it is thrown away and very little is typically eaten. The main attraction is the artichoke heart, which is prized for its mild, vegetal flavor as well as its texture, which is soft but slightly meaty once steamed. 

The rest of the artichoke is largely discarded, even the petals, from which a small amount of meat can be scraped relative to the size of the inedible portion. After eating an artichoke, you would never know it had been consumed by the pile of detritus left over.

But one crucial mistake that many people make when cooking artichokes is to include the stem in the discarded remnants. While we generally assume that fruit or vegetable stems are inedible or undesirable (think: zucchinis, apples, etc.), artichoke stems are not only edible, but delicious, and taste just like the beloved artichoke heart.

Ways to eat artichoke stems

Artichokes are unusual among vegetables, as they are actually the buds of flowers in the thistle family. But while their spiky outer leaves and furry inner choke are inedible, their stems are effectively an extension of the soft artichoke heart — you just need to know how to get to them. Artichoke stems have thick skins, so they should be peeled and trimmed before cooking, and the small, tough leaves that circle where the stem meets the heart should be removed. From there, you can use artichokes and their stems in anything from a simple salad with Parmesan and lemon, to this Mario Batali recipe with kale and monkfish.

And, if you've ever wondered how to eat an artichoke without wasting any of it, simply look at Italian cuisine. Artichokes, also known as carciofi, are popular in a lot of regional Italian dishes, particularly around Rome. And many of these dishes are typically cooked with the stem, such as Carciofi alla Romana (where they are stuffed with herbs and pan-braised) and Carciofi alla Giudia (fried artichokes). In fact, many Italians consider the stem to be the best part.

How to find artichokes with stems

Unfortunately, if you buy artichokes in the U.S., they may not always come with their original stalks. A lot of the artichokes sold commercially are pre-trimmed and deprived of their snackable stems. You can always check your local farmers market to see if you can find artichokes with their stems intact. 

If you're a fan of foraging, you might also be in luck. The stems of burdock plants are a fantastic dupe for artichoke stems, as the two plants are actually related. These invasive plants are common across North America, can be harvested easily with a sharp knife, and can be peeled and cooked just as you would do with artichoke stems.

If you do have some access to specialty produce in your area, you might look to see if you can find cardoons, too. These relatives to the traditional artichoke are bred for their stems specifically, which are larger and more flavorful.