Pesto is a type of sauce with basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and garlic as the main ingredients. An artichoke is a thick, thistle-type flower, cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Artichoke pesto is a combination of these two culinary treats. Artichoke hearts are added to the ingredients of a basic pesto sauce to create a versatile spread similar in consistency to chutney.
Artichokes, although considered by many to be vegetables, are actually flowers. The artichoke is actually the closed bud of the flower and consists of tightly layered, thick green petals, each with a spine at its tip. The base of each petal has a small edible portion, but the real gem of an artichoke is the heart. The heart is the base to which all the petals are attached, and it has a rich, buttery taste. It is the artichoke heart that is used when making artichoke pesto.
The best-tasting artichoke hearts for making this type of pesto are those that are fresh. In order to prepare a fresh artichoke heart for inclusion in a pesto, the petals need to be stripped of the artichoke until all that remains is the circular center, otherwise known as the heart. The heart has tiny hairs covering its middle, which need to be removed. A stem is also attached to the heart, and many people will strip the outer layer of the stem off and use it in the pesto as well.
If fresh artichoke hearts are used, generally, they are steamed in preparation for the pesto. Artichokes hearts are also available canned and frozen. Many individuals use either the canned or frozen varieties when making this pesto, thus avoiding the inconvenience of cleaning and cooking the artichoke hearts. Whichever type of artichoke hearts are used, they are generally chopped before they are added to the pesto. Some chefs chop them very finely, while others prefer a chunkier texture.
Regular pesto is generally thin and is used primarily as a sauce for pasta dishes. When artichoke is added to the pesto, it causes it to become much thicker. As a result, artichoke pesto is not typically used as a pasta sauce. Rather, it is used as a spread and can be served like a bruschetta on crackers, toast, or bread. It can also be used as a condiment to flavor other foods, such as shrimp or pork chops.
While the main ingredients for artichoke pesto are the same as for basic pesto, with the addition of the artichoke hearts, some individuals prefer to add a bit of lemon juice or lemon zest to the mix. The lemon is believed by many to accentuate the flavor of the artichoke while giving the artichoke pesto a light citrus flavor. Also, while pine nuts constitute a primary ingredient in basic pesto sauce, some chefs feel that toasted walnuts complement the flavor of artichoke pesto better than pine nuts. There are many variations of and uses for artichoke pesto, and which one is best comes down to a matter of individual taste.