I am obsessed with artichokes. I have passion for this gorgeous green flower that even I don’t understand. I think it all began when I used to eat them as a kid at my grandmothers house. They were always steamed and served whole with droves of hot garlic butter on the side for dipping. I ate every leaf and scraped them clean with my little teeth. When I finally reached the tiny purple leaves inside, my mother would clear the heart of the prickly choke so it didn’t hurt me. I’m not quite sure if I even knew what the flavor was in so much as I was mostly interested in the entertainment value of the vegetetable itself. A food that I got to play with that had a ritual of dipping and eating with my hands?! Well this was like a little food creatrix-to-be fantasy come true. Taste wouldn’t matter anyway, as it was the garlic butter that was important. The heart at the end was like a prize, almost a veggie version of cracker jack or a Kinder Egg and hitting the jack pot every time at a slot machine.
Flash forward to adulthood and I am still smitten. I will order them in any restaurant they are on the menu of just to see how the chef prepares them. My favorite preparation is the Italian Carchofi a la Giueda—the entire flower fried to a crisp. Not the healthiest of choices, but when done perfectly, they absorb little of the olive oil. I am quite content with a shaved raw artichoke salad with a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit olive oil. Most people enjoy a few slivers of freshly grated Parmesan, but I’ll skip that most of the time.
As far as the health benefits of artichokes, I could wax endlessly and poetically about this. I call them female-friendly veggies as they are filled with nutrients that are highly beneficial to women, like foliate and magnesium. Of course, we can all benefit from these nutrients but women require some extra. They are loaded antioxidants and vitamin C. It is the fiber content that makes them so special in the nutrient world. Americans are somewhat obsessed with fiber—and understandably so as the average diet tends to shy away from fiber. I have noticed since my time in France, that the French lack fiber due to the high protein and low vegetable balance in the diet. So I’m encouraging everyone across the pond to embrace this season.
How to Pick a Good One
This is a very good question. Choose deep green artichoke with tight firm leaves that “squeak” when you squeeze it. This noise is the sound of freshness.
Although the season is April through September, artichokes are at their height in July and August. So be prepared for their taste to get bolder and brighter as the summer goes on.
Some of My Favorite Artichoke Destinations
There is a place in Rome called Rosciolis. It is a bakery, salumeria, and restaurant. They sell the most surreal grilled artichokes in fresh olive oil by the kilo.
These little bundles of joy were 29 euros a kilo so needless to say I had to ration myself to two hearts per day. It was torture.
Fairway Market: yes, Fairway. Scrumptious grilled artichokes by the pound in olive oil that are very useful to keep on hand at all times for salads, blending into sauces, tossing into rice yada yada yada…
I Sodi: The most perfect shaved artichoke salad with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Shaved Parmesan outside of Italy. The rest of the food is pretty amazing as well.
Shaved artichoke and Pecorino Tuscano Salad
This is my twist on the classic. I am a goat and sheep cheese fan, hence the Pecorino instead of the traditional Parmesan. My friend Liz Thorope (the cheese guru behind Murray’s Cheese) says that Tuscan Pecorino lets the starring vegetable shine as opposed to a Pecorino Romano, which can be overwhelming and salty. I like to listen to Liz when it comes to such matters.
- 8 baby artichokes
- 2 large lemons, juiced; the zest of one lemon
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large piece aged Tuscan Pecorino (about four ounces)
- 1 small head of butter lettuce, torn
- 1 small head of radicchio, torn
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel the outer leaves from the artichokes until you reach the lighter green leaves.
Cut the top inch off the artichoke and trim the stem if you aren’t going prepare or eat the salad right away, put the artichokes into a bowl of water with about three teaspoons lemon juice. You can cover the bowl with a wet cloth or some paper towel and refrigerate until you are ready to use them. This stops them from turning all your hard work black.
To prepare the salad, drain the artichokes and slice them lengthwise on a mandolin, being very weary of your fingers. If you don’t have a mandolin, just slice as thin as possible.
Put the sliced artichokes in a bowl of water with some of lemon juice.
For the dressing, add one teaspoon lemon juice, the olive oil, salt and pepper and mix well.
Drain the artichokes, toss with the butter lettuce and radicchio and some of the dressing. Top the salad with big slivers of the Tuscan Pecorino and lots of freshly ground black pepper.