Artichokes are those refined vegetables that are unmissable in winter in any Italian kitchens.
Here in the USA, you have most likely tasted this delicacy on a pizza topping or salads.
However, fresh (either raw or cooked) artichokes taste quite different from those you find in a jar. Although it is classified as a vegetable, an artichoke (Cynara cardunculus) is the immature flower bud of a thistle, and it is harvested before it can blossom.
Artichokes are among the world’s oldest food in the world, and originated in the Mediterranean basin: the exact region is uncertain, but many facts lead to Sicily, in Italy.
Greek and the Roman empires then introduced them to the rest of Europe and even to Northern African regions. In the 18th century, the French then started growing crops in their colonies in the United States.
The French artichoke, also called globe artichoke, is the world’s most known variety. As the noun suggests, its thornless outer leaves (called bracts) form a green round flower. The base of the bracts is tender and edible. One after the other, they lead you to a soft hairy center (called choke), sitting on top of the most scrumptious and delicate part: the heart and the top of the stem.
However, there is another variety of this unique vegetable, and it is cultivated in Italy and only in Sardinia: the Spiny artichoke ( PDO: Protected Designation of Origin). Once again, as the name suggests, its bracts and stem have big thorns, and its flavor is slightly more intense. It is usually available from late November to early March, but not always nationwide.
According to FAO, artichokes are produced only in 31 countries. Italy is holding first place with more than 20% of the world’s harvest, followed by Egypt, Spain, and Peru. In regards to the States, 80% of our domestic crops come from Castroville, in California. The “Artichoke Center of the World” has even been holding a Festival in June since 1959! (https://artichokefestival.org/)
This delicious vegetable is not only a delicacy to our palate but also to our entire body. According to a USDA study, among 1000 different types of food, artichokes are ranked 7th in antioxidant content.
They are low in saturated fat and cholesterol while being a rich source of fibers and vitamins such as vitamin C, folate, and vitamin K.
They also provide minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, sodium, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus.
FOOD DATA CENTRAL
Why are artichokes so good for your health?
Here are the top 3 reasons why:
- Two special antioxidants found in their leaves and stems, cynarin and silymarin, can detox the liver.
- The high content of potassium can regulate blood pressure.
- Being a rich source of fiber, they can improve the digestive system’s health and functionality.
Let’s jump to the fun part: how to eat them!
As we previously mentioned, artichokes can be eaten raw or cooked in different ways.
Whatever you decide, make sure to pick fresh ones! Check out the outer leaves: if they are extremely hard or spread out too much, the artichoke could be old or overmature. If you hear a squeaking sound by pressing the leaves against each other, just place them in your caddy and take them home!
You will need to wash them, remove a few of the outer leaves, and cut off the top so the tender heart will be revealed. Leave a few centimeters of the stem, and peel off the skin.
Then let your fantasy run wild!
You can boil them, stew them, grill them, back them, stuff them, make a delicious risotto, and so much more.
If you need a little inspiration, you can check out some of these delicious recipes.
Not only eaten, but drunken too!
Artichokes can be made into a herbal tea: an excellent way to detox your liver, soothing your digestion and getting your skin to glow.
In the fifties, Italy launched a very particular digestive liquor called Cynar: an artichoke-based liquor enriched by a special mix of 13 herbs and plants.
This distinctive beverage is still produced today and can be easily found in bars and restaurants today, to drink at the end of a meal, or as part of a few original cocktails.
We do hope you can find some fresh artichokes at your local market. Otherwise, come by and taste the most delicate Italian artichoke hearts in our Carciofo salad, Pizza, or Salmone Fantasia.