It’s during winter time that we begin spotting artichokes at the market. The problem is that people often think “Oh, delicious!! Too much work though, with all that peeling. I don’t know…Forget it, I won’t buy them…”Don’t make this mistake! Eating and cooking artichokes is actually not that hard and their delicate and unique flavor is unbeatable. A delicious soft flesh surrounded by thick spiny leaves: eating a whole artichoke is an experience that starts with the outer leaves all the way through to the precious heart in an escalation of taste. Totally worth the effort!
Artichokes are the large flower bud of a kind of thistle native to the Mediterranean region. Same family as the cardoon (another great flavor), they were already praised by Ancient Romans. Different varieties are spread across Italy and endless are the regional recipes: eat them raw, stuffed with herbs and braised, deep fried “alla Romana”, charred on the streets of Catania – Sicily, in savoury pies, with pasta, in lasagna, soup, etc…
A good idea is to start by taking away the tougher outer leaves and chopping the spiky tops off. Then clean the central hairy part, called “the choke” or “flowerets”: this is what will become the flower bud. It is not harmful to eat but not that pleasant either, since it is very fibrous. If you peel the stalks and eliminate the outer, more fibrous parts, you will find they are delicious to eat! As soon as you have cleaned artichokes place them into a bowl of cold water and lemon juice. This will help prevent oxidisation, hence them turning black.
Artichokes are truly amazing for your health as well, thanks to the abundant presence of phenolic substances: some of these have antioxidant and cholesterol lowering properties.
These same phenolics are responsible for the astringent flavor if consumed raw, for coloring your fingers black (you were still wondering about the gloves tip above, right?) and for turning the artichoke flesh dark when left in contact with air for too long. A very little price to pay for enjoying one of the season’s kings!