From the Earth: Artichokes

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Artichokes caught my attention when I moved to Italy. When Artichoke season comes along, you’ll start seeing more and more of these pretty veggies out on display. Back home in South Africa, I didn’t pay much attention to these pretty veggies. However, here in Rome, when the artichokes come out, they are difficult to ignore.

Seasonal eating in Italy is part of life here. It is awesome, making me feel that little bit more connected to the earth.

Being mid-March in Rome, the start of Spring, below is what will welcome you in local supermarkets. How pretty? In the back there, you can see fennel and citrus out on display.

“Artichoke” in Italian is “Carciofo” (pronounced “kar-cho-fo”). Plural is “Carciofi” (pronounced “kar-cho-fi”).


What is an Artichoke?

An artichoke is a vegetable that comes from the Mediterranean. It is actually a budding flower, giving it it’s unique design. The inner edible part is the flower head, and the leaves covering it are called bracts. It looks like a flower, don’t you think? When these buds actually left to bloom, they produce the most beautiful bring flowers. Bellissimo!

Do you know what makes a vegetable a vegetable? A vegetable is simply a plant or part of a plant that is used as food. So even though an artichoke is, in theory, a budding flower, it is also considered a vegetable because we eat it.

There are many varieties of artichokes, in different shapes and sizes. The most common variety eaten in the United States is the Green Globe. In Italy, there are other varieties, such as the Spinoso Sardo from Sardinia and Tema from Tuscany. The artichoke variety I have my hands is the Romanesco Artichoke, being here in Rome – a beautiful greenish-purple variety. Very pretty flowers indeed!


Where do Artichokes come from?

It’s agreed that Artichokes originated from the Mediterranean.

Some say the artichokes birthplace is Sicily or Tunisia, spreading up to Naples and then to Florence. Since then, regions like Tuscany grow a lot of artichokes every year. Italy is actually the world largest producer of artichokes. Along with Spain and France, the three countries make about 80% of the world’s artichokes.

Beyond Italy, you’ll find artichoke production all over the world now. Countries include Argentina, China, Morocco, Egypt, Peru, United States and many more. Just as a fun fact, in the United States, California produces almost 100% of the entire nation’s artichokes. It’s US artichoke land for sure.

When is Artichoke Season?

Spring is artichoke’s peak season, with another short burst in Autumn. In Italy, Spring starts in March, so this is when you’ll see more artichokes around. From March to June or July, they’ll be in healthy supply. That said, artichokes are grown all year round.

Did You Know?

On Vegetarian’s in Paradise, I read an interesting and amusing story about how Artichokes were once denied to Women:

In the 16th Century eating an artichoke would be a scandalous adventure for any woman. At that time, because the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac, it was reserved for men only. In fact, the artichoke was denied to women and reserved for men because it was thought to enhance sexual power.

Fortunately such esoteric attitudes do not prevail in the 21st Century where both men and women are privy to the pleasures of the artichoke. However, there are places around the world where people have neither tasted nor seen the artichoke.

Another fun fact I discovered was that in 1948 Marilyn Monroe was crowned the first Artichoke Queen. How cool is that?

These surprising histories remind me that plants have their very own stories too. They too have journeyed their way to today, just like you and me. When doing research on these natural ingredients, it’s certain you’ll stumble upon an interesting fact, or part of their story, that makes you appreciate them that little bit more.

#DidYouKnow In 1948 Marilyn Monroe was crowned the first Artichoke Queen. #Artichokes #Carciofi Click To Tweet


A Closer Look at The Artichoke:

As mentioned above, there are many varieties of artichokes. Below looks at all artichokes in general, being that they’re made of the same foundational elements. Read on find out more about how you can use and benefit from having more artichokes in your life. Recipes included at the very bottom, as always!

Read on to discover more about:
Artichoke Nutritional Content
Artichoke Uses
Practical Information
Simple CleanArtichoke Recipes

Artichoke Nutritional Content:

A 100g of raw Artichoke contains:

Energy211 kJ (50 kcal)
Carbohydrates11.39 g
Dietary fiber8.6 g
Sugars0.99 g
Fat0.34 g
Protein2.89 g
VitaminsThiamine (B1) (4%), Riboflavin (B2) (7%), Niacin (B3) (7%), Pantothenic acid (B5) (5%), Vitamin B6 (6%), Folate (B9) (22%), Vitamin C (9%), Vitamin E (1%), Vitamin K
MineralsCalcium (2%), Iron (5%), Magnesium (12%), Manganese (11%), Phosphorus (10%), Potassium (6%), Sodium (20%), Zinc

In a nutshell, these veggies are low in calories, high in protein and contain lots of vitamins and minerals. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Artichoke Uses:

Eating:*Recipes at bottom of post.
Artichokes can be cooked in so many ways. Boiled, steamed, fried, sauteed, baked, roasted, or even eaten raw!
Artichokes can be used in many different dishes. In soups, salads, with pasta, in pies, as a side dish with many proteins, on simply their own. They can even be used in desserts!
Artichoke tea is easy to make. Simply boil a handful of fresh artichoke leaves in filtered water. After 10-20min, strain and drink.
Digestive health: Artichokes contain lots of fibre, which helps promote regular digestion. They also contain Cynarin, which is known to stimulate the production of bile, enabling us to digest fats and absorb essential vitamins from our food.
Heart Health: The fibre helps lower blood pressure and maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
Liver health: The cynarin in artichokes assists in increasing the bile production in the liver, getting rid of dangerous toxins and digest fats, and lowering cholesterol. Artichokes also contain other elements like the flavonoid silymarin, that promote healthy liver function.
Immune system: Artichokes contain quite a lot of Vitamin C that helps protect cells from damage. Vitamin C also helps our body's wounds heal quicker, as well as protecting the body from disease by helping it absorb iron.

Practical Information:

Buying Artichokes
If you can, go to a local fruit and veg market. Here you'll likely find fresher and better priced options.
Look for big artichokes with hydrated leaves that are tightly packed.
Avoid artichokes that are feel dried out. Look at their stems and make sure they're not withered and old.
Preparing Artichokes
Before cooking artichokes, you need to clean them well. This is very important as this can make or break your meal you so loving cooked.
Cut off the stems, leaving only 2-2.5 cm. Now pull off the harder outer leaves - they should snap at their base. Don't be shy here - remove all the hard leaves so that you're only left with the softer lighter leaves closer to the centre.
Cut up to one third off the top of the artichokes. Use kitchen scissors to trim all the remains hard tips of the leaves.
Use a peeler, and shave off any remaining hard bits from the base. Lightly shave the stem too.
Check your artichoke properly. At this stage I usually take off a few more leaves. Only leave the softer inner section close to the artichoke heart.
Keep your artichokes whole or cut them in half, or into even smaller pieces. If you cut your artichoke, scoop out the hairy centre. If you leave them whole, you can do this while eating it.
To keep them from going brown, add them to a bowl of cold water and some lemon. Leave half lemon in the bowl too. Lightly lemoned water will prevent them from going brown. Leave for about 10 min or until you're ready to cook. Your artichoke preparation is done! Brava!
Eating Artichokes
How you eat artichokes depends on the dish you're eating. You can cook artichokes with more or fewer leaves - If you have slightly more leaves, you can start eating your artichoke by pulling off the outer leaves and scraping off the soft flesh off the base of the leaf with your teeth. You can also dip these leaves into a tasty dip. Once you get to the soft centre heart, you'll likely use a knife and fork.
Storing Artichokes
First choice: Buy artichokes fresh and eat them within the next two days!
If you're eating the artichokes on the same day, you can simply keep them out of the fridge. If you're eating them a couple days later, keep them in the fridge. If you're wanting to keep them as long as a week, you'll probably be better off sprinkling a little water on them and keeping in an airtight bag.
Keep in the fridge

I hope the above was useful. Preparing artichokes can seem daunting if you haven’t done it before, but after a while, it becomes pretty easy. I can’t reiterate enough how important it is to clean them properly. I have left too many outer leaves on before, and it ruined the end dish. All you want in your dish is the edible centre and some of the soft outer leaves and stem. The rest are chewy tough leaves that won’t taste good.

There is a funny saying in Italy, “la politica del carciofo”. Translated, “the politics of the artichoke’. This saying is talking about how you need to deal with eating a whole artichoke, one leaf at a time.

Got any other tips to share? Please share below in the comments, would love to learn more.

Simple Clean Artichoke Recipes:

Artichokes may take a little longer to prepare than other veggies, but they’re worth the effort. Start off with a simple artichoke recipe, put on some music in the kitchen, and enjoy some cooking time.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it. I’d love to spread the love for this flowering veggie so that more people appreciate it. Also, if you have useful information to share, please do so in the comments – I’d love to learn more. Hey, I may even quote it in the article!

Don’t miss the upcoming Simple Italian Artichoke Recipe Post.



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