All about artichokes - history, diffusion, tips and tricks

Artichokes hold a thorny beauty. They can wound you, but they also hide tender hearts.

Artichokes can wound you like Cynara hurted Zeus heart in Greek mythology.

The legend of artichokes

The legend tells us that Zeus fell in love with the beautiful nymph Cynara who was, unfortunately for the god, also fickle and capricious. So the jealous Zeus turned her into a green and prickly vegetable, the artichoke. The artichoke green color reminds Cynara eyes, while artichoke thorns reminds so much pain that the god suffered for jealousy. However artichoke has a sweet heart like Cynara, the girl who initially enchanted Zeus.

Jumping from the legend to to the real Roman history, we see artichokes quoted in History of plants by Teofrasto (300 B.C.) with the description of artichokes diuretic and relaxing properties. In Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder (1° century A.C.) we find the virtues of artichokes in Roman cuisine. In De Re Rustica by Decio Bruno Columella, according to the author artichokes were very dear to Bacchus.

Artichoke plant is native to the countries of Mediterranean basin, probably from Egypt and North Africa; in the fifteenth century artichoke was well established in Italy, it came from Sicily to Tuscany in 1466. Artichoke was introduced in France by Caterina de Medici (1519-1589), who willingly tasted artichoke hearts. Caterina de Medici, brought artichokes from Tuscany to France in 1547 when she married Henry II. A few years before, in 1530, artichokes were cultivated also in England, in the garden of King Henry VIII.

In their beautiful travel around the world, artichokes crossed Atlantic Ocean and finally arrived to America where, in 1700 in Louisiana, French immigrants started artichokes cultivations.

Artichokes

In Monterey, California, artichokes were favored by good weather becoming an invasive plant while nowaday in the coastal town of Castroville (5000 inhabitants), self-proclaiming World Center of Artichoke, they celebrate in the month of May the Artichoke Festival with the election of the Artichoke Queen. Do you know who was the the first Artichoke Queen elected in 1949? The star Marilyn Monroe!

Also in Italy there is a Romanesco Artichoke Festival; it is celebrated in April in Ladispoli (Lazio region) that is Castroville's twin town.

Where in Italy artichoke is cultivated?

Artichoke does not like cold clime and grows where temperatures rarely fall below zero.

Italian regions more suitable for the cultivation of artichoke are Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia, Tuscany and Lazio. The most cultivated artichoke, which is called Cynara scolymus, with its wide variety certainty derives from a wild ancestor, the Cynara cardunculus. It seems that Artichoke "domestication" had been in Sicily, from the first century.

Going across another Italian island, Sardinia, we notice that it's not only a wonderful land for summer holidays, it is also a good place for artichokes cultivations. In fact Sardinian people cultivate several kinds of artichoke which Italian names are:

  • Spinoso Sardo
  • Terom
  • Violetto di Provenza
  • Tema
  • Romanesco

A list of beautiful Italian artichoke names

  • Paestum, IGP artichoke from the famous Paestum, Magna Grecia town
  • Spinoso d'Albenga, a Ligurian region
  • Macau
  • Catanese
  • Verde from Palermo
  • Precoce from Chioggia
  • Violetto from Niscemi

Artichokes

How to eat an artichoke

There are many artichoke recipes out there, but to fully enjoy the flavor of this delicious vegetable you have to eat it raw, browsing one by one the bracts, dipping the most tender leaves in extra virgin olive oil flavored with a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of pepper. Cut the artichoke's heart into four pieces, private it of any internal beard, clean the stem from its filaments, dress both in the same way and eat them too. Do you want another way to eat raw artichokes?

  1. Clean 2 artichokes per person and cut them finely;
  2. immediately immerse them in water and pomegranate juice or orange juice to prevent their blacken, at the same time the juice give them a pleasant aroma;
  3. drain them quickly, dry and put them in a bowl;
  4. season artichokes with thyme, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, orange juice or pomegranate juice and, if you like, a few slices of raw porcini;
  5. serve the artichokes immediately.

Because of their high iron content, eating raw artichokes leaves a particular and distinctive flavor, almost metallic.

You can eat artichokes with any type of meat or fish, fat or thin, because with the artichoke those meals acquire a taste and a unique preciousness. Fried, in soup, stuffed, raw, baked, boiled, associated with meat, fish, eggs, game and seafood, artichoke can be paired with appetizers, pasta dishes, or second courses. With artichokes you can drink sparkling, white or rosé, fresh and well structured, or soft wines. Artichokes can be eaten preserved as well: in oil, pickles, as cream to spread.

How to choose an artichoke

Suppose you are now at the market: if you have to choose an artichoke, pay attention to the following right artichoke characteristics:

  1. closed end;
  2. dark green outer leaves;
  3. tender inner leaves;
  4. lack of inner barb;
  5. tender stem without dent.

What about artichoke properties?

Artichoke is really a precious vegetable because it is rich in iron, carbohydrates, vitamin C and contains an important ingredient called cynarin. Cynarin seems to have an essential role in lowering cholesterol. Artichokes, thanks to its high content of antioxidants, if added regularly to the diet help us in fighting aging, heart attack, stroke. In fact artichoke:

  • regenerates liver;
  • purifies the blood;
  • strengthens the heart;
  • dissolves kidney;
  • detoxifies.

Diabetic people are allowed to eat artichokes and, as Teofrasto (300 B.C.) wrote in his History of plants, artichokes are also diuretics. This precious vegetable is rich in iron but low in calories; in artichokes composition we also find:

  • sodium
  • potassium;
  • calcium;
  • phosphorus;
  • vitamins (A, B1, B2, C, PP);
  • malic acid;
  • citric acid;
  • tannins;
  • sugars.

Artichoke is also used in cosmetics. Its juice reactivates devitalized skin and spotty.

Sources

sardegnaincampo.com - Il Carciofo

amicomario.blogspot.it - Il carciofo: un potente antidoto contro il "logorio della vita moderna". Quello sardo è uno dei più ricercati sul mercato.

riza.it - Cibo per ripulire le arterie. Ecco i carciofi anti colesterolo

agraria.org - Cynara cardunculus L. scolymus (L.) Hegi

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