“The artichoke above all is the vegetable expression of civilized living, of the long view, of increasing delight by anticipation and crescendo. No wonder it was once considered an aphrodisiac. It had no place in the troll’s world of
instant gratification. It makes no appeal to the meat-and-two-veg mentality.” – Jane Grigson.
People have been eating globe artichokes (Cynara cardunculus) for a very long time. The artichoke is mentioned
as a garden plant in the 8th century BC by Homer and Hesiod. Its wild ancestor, the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) is a large thistle native to the Mediterranean area. The Greeks were the first people to cultivate the cardoon, and archeological finds
prove that they were soon being grown and eaten in Asia Minor, Egypt, Sicily, Rome, Spain and Carthage.
This handsome vegetable can grow up to 2m tall, with large edible flowers which should be eaten before they reach maturity. The edible portions
of the buds consist primarily of the fleshy base, known as the "heart" and the base of the leaves. The mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the "choke" or beard. These are inedible in older, larger flowers. Apart from its consumption
as food, the globe artichoke is also an attractive plant for its bright floral display, sometimes grown in herbaceous borders for its bold foliage and large, purple flower heads.
Artichokes are eaten in a number of ways. Large globe artichokes are frequently
prepared by removing all but 5 – 10 mm of the stem. To remove thorns, which may interfere with eating, around a quarter of each scale can be cut off. The artichoke is then boiled or steamed. A cooked, unseasoned artichoke has a delicate flavour,
reminiscent of fried egg white. The core of the stem tastes similar to the artichoke heart, and is edible. Leaves are usually removed one at a time, and the fleshy base eaten with hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise, aioli, lemon juice, or other sauces. The fibrous
upper part of each leaf is usually discarded. The heart is eaten when the inedible choke has been peeled away from the base and discarded. The thin leaves covering the choke are also edible.
In Italy, artichoke hearts in oil are the usual vegetable
for "spring" section of the Quattro Stagioni ("Four Seasons") pizza (with olives for summer, mushrooms for autumn, and ham for winter). A recipe well known in Rome (and my personal favourite) is Carciofi alla Giudia (Jewish-style
artichokes), which are deep-fried whole.
Stuffed artichoke recipes are abundant. A common Italian stuffing uses a mixture of bread crumbs, garlic, oregano, parsley, grated cheese, and prosciutto or sausage. A bit of the mixture is then pushed into the
spaces at the base of each leaf and into the center before boiling or steaming. In Spain, young, tender artichokes are sprinkled with olive oil and barbecued, sautéed in olive oil and garlic, combined with rice as a paella, or sautéed and combined
with eggs in an omelette. Greeks prefer aginares a la polita ("artichokes big city-style), a hearty, savory stew made with artichoke hearts, potatoes, and carrots, and flavored with onion, lemon, and dill.
If you are able to obtain
the small, purple-coloured Roman artichokes – they are coming into season at this very moment – do yourself and your dinner guests a favour and make the following dish as the starter course at a special dinner. It’s a guaranteed show stopper.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Tastes best accompanied by a Fino sherry or a bone-dry Cape Riesling
12 Baby artichokes
4 Lemons, halved
4 Bay leaves, preferably
2 Thyme sprigs
2 Rosemary sprigs
2 Sage leaves
1 Small red onion, finely chopped
1 Cup water
1 Cup olive oil, plus more for serving
1 Cup dry white wine
½ Cup lemon juice
Tsp. coriander seeds
¼ Tsp. black peppercorns
Fine sea salt
- Combine the water with the lemon juice in a large, deep saucepan.
- Add the 4 lemons to the water in the skillet.
- Working with 1 baby
artichoke at a time, snap off all of the dark green outer leaves.
- Using a sharp knife, slice off the top half of the leaves and peel and trim the stem.
- As each artichoke is ready, drop it into the lemon-infused water.
- Add the cup
of olive oil and the white wine, onion, coriander seeds, peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, sage and bay leaves to the contents of the saucepan.
- Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, then reduce the heat to low.
- Cover and simmer until the
artichokes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.
- Allow the artichokes to cool in the cooking liquid for 30 minutes.
- Transfer the artichokes to a work surface and discard the cooking liquid.
- Cut the artichokes in
half lengthwise and arrange them on a platter.
- Drizzle the artichokes with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and serve warm or at room temperature.
- Note: The poached baby artichokes can be made a day in advance. Simply
drain and refrigerate overnight. Let the artichokes return to room temperature before serving.
“His memoir is a splendid artichoke of anecdotes, in which not merely the heart and leaves but the thistles as well are edible.”
– John Leonard.