No relation of the tuber-like Jerusalem artichoke, the globe artichoke is considered to be the 'true' artichoke and is the bud of a large member of the thistle family.
The tender ends of the leaves and the base (or 'heart') of the bud are both edible; the tough outside leaves and the furry central choke and its surrounding leaves aren't.
Choose the best
Go for specimens with tightly packed, crisp green or purple leaves with a slight bloom. Fresh ones should feel heavy for their size, and the leaves should 'squeak' when the bud is gently squeezed.
In smaller artichokes, the leaves are more tender (baby artichokes may not even have a choke); in larger ones, the hearts are bigger.
To serve whole, cut the tough tips of the leaves off with scissors, holding the stalk to keep the artichoke steady. Using a knife, slice the base off, so that it will sit upright, before trimming off the pointed top (the younger the artichoke, the less you'll need to cut off). Pull the pale centre leaves out, then scoop the choke out with a spoon, without disturbing the heart underneath.
To prevent browning, drop each one in a bowl of water to which a little lemon juice has been added. Cook them in a pan of boiling salted water for 35-45 minutes (when they're ready you should easily be able to pull out a leaf). Drain upside down.
Iron, copper and aluminium cookware may cause artichokes to discolour; stainless steel, glass or enamel is better.
Globe artichokes are best eaten on the day they're bought, but will keep in a perforated plastic bag in the fridge for a couple of days.
Artichoke hearts are easily available bottled in oil, and are great as part of an Italian anti pasti course. Otherwise, boil or steam the whole artichoke head, then pull the leaves off and dip them in hollandaise sauce, melted butter or garlic butter, drawing the leaf through your teeth to remove the tender flesh before discarding the rest. Or boil the head, pull out the central leaves, scoop out the choke and stuff with chopped garlic and parsley, grated parmesan and bread crumbs before drizzling with olive oil and baking in the oven.
They can also be barbecued or grilled: cut in half lengthways, remove the choke, brush with olive oil and grill for 30 minutes, until tender.