Artichoke…a thistle by any other name

2011/12/13 - Written by Maria Loggia
Artichoke carciofi
Pictures by Gabriel Riel-Salvatore
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Although the artichoke plunged into obscurity with the fall of the Roman Empire, it has now been a staple in Europe since the 15th century. However, in many respects this flower (bud of a flower) is still cloaked in darkness for many of us. No where else is it celebrated and cherished as it is in Rome.

The Romans believe that artichoke possess formidable aphrodisiac, digestive, and diuretic powers-stripping out bad cholesterol, acting like a liver tonic and generally filling the body and soul with vigor. Just as the tulips bloom in the springtime, so do the artichokes.  At this time of the year they are readily available in most produce markets. Whether they are fried, pickled, stuffed, or poached, artichokes are a delicious change to our everyday menu. Enjoy them one leaf at a time!

Highlighting one of spring’s stars, Panoramitalia presents a series of tips for better artichokes as well as some delicious recipes for these prickly vegetables, which can sometimes be truly challenging to consume gracefully:

• Try to buy young artichokes with long, uncut stems. The shorter the stem, the tougher the artichoke tends to be.

• Look for those with tightly closed leaves and bright green coloring. They should feel heavy to the touch (lightness is a sign they have dried out and are certain to be tough). Freshly picked artichokes will squeak when rubbed together.

• Artichokes thrive on moisture, if they are not used immediately, lightly trim the stems, wrap in damp paper towels and refrigerate.

• To clean the artichokes: Start by soaking the artichokes in a bowl of cold water, with a lemon cut in half and squeezed. Let soak for 1/2 hr. Remove the green outer leaves of the artichokes by snapping them off at the base. Stop when the leaves closer to the base are pale yellow and the tips are pale green. Slice off the green tops. Cut the stem off at the base and trim off the remaining green part at the base. Return the cleaned artichoke to the acidulated water until needed.

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