Feb 24, 2019
Artichoke - Once a Goddess
Artichokes are quite amazing to me. When the plant fully flowers it looks like the largest thistle you ever saw, almost Jurassic in their appearance. They do hail from the thistle group which is an extension of the Sunflower family. Their name "artichoke" is derived from the Northern Italian words articiocco and articoclos. This latter term is supposed to come from the Ligurian word cocali, meaning pine cone.
The artichoke has a long history that goes as far back as the time of Greek mythology. They were written about by Greek philosopher and naturalist, Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.). Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. They were often attributed to securing the birth of boys. According to an Aegean legend the first artichoke was a lovely young girl who lived on the island of Zinari. The god, Zeus was visiting his brother Poseidon one day when, as he emerged from the sea, he spied a beautiful young mortal woman. She was not frightened by the presence of a god. Zeus seized the opportunity to seduce her. He was so pleased with the girl, who's name was Cynara, that he decided to make her a goddess, so that she could be nearer to his home on Olympia. Zeus thrilled at the opportunity to meet with her whenever his wife Hera was away was soon disappointed when Cynara was struck with home sickness. Due to her un-goddess-like behavior, Zeus became outraged and hurled her back to earth and transformed her into the plant we know as the artichoke.
In 77 A.D., the Roman naturalist Caisus Plinius Secundus, called Pliny the Elder (not the local beer but an actual person who lived 23-79 A.D.), called the artichoke "one of the earth's monstrosities." Evidently, he and his colleagues continued to enjoy eating them. Wealthy Romans enjoyed artichokes prepared in honey and vinegar, seasoned with cumin. By preparing it this way, they were able to enjoy the treat year round.
It is believed that the plant is native to the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands. In full growth, the artichoke plant spreads to cover an area about six feet in diameter and reaches a height of three or four feet. There are more than 140 artichoke varieties but less than 40 are grown commercially. Today most artichokes grown worldwide are cultivated in France, Italy, and Spain, while California provides nearly 100 percent of the crops in the United States. Artichoke fields are maintained in perennial culture for five to ten years. Each cropping cycle is initiated by cutting back the tops of the plants several inches below the soil surface to stimulate development of new shoots. The operation called "stumping", is timed to regulate the new harvest season. Artichokes will be popping up soon at your local farmers' markets in March and can be found through June. They will return again in September for a fall bumper crop.
3 fresh artichokes
2 large fresh lemons, juiced
2 tablespoons olive oil (or melted butter)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly-chopped
fresh rosemary (plus additional fresh thyme, oregano, or sage, if you’d like)
coarse sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
Heat oven to 400°F.
Use a knife to slice off the bottom 1/2-inch (or more, if you’d like) of the artichoke stems, and the top 1 inch of the artichoke globes (the leaves on top). Remove and discard any small leaves toward the bottoms of the stems. Rinse the artichokes with water.
Slice the artichokes in half vertically. Use a spoon to scoop out the fuzzy “choke” in the middle of the artichoke. Then use kitchen shears to trim about 1/4/-inch off the pointy tips of each of the artichoke leaves (so that they don’t poke you when you eat them). Rub a lemon wedge all over the entire surface of each artichoke half, to prevent browning.
Place the artichoke halves in a baking dish or on a baking sheet cut-side-up. Brush the cut sides of the artichokes evenly with the olive oil. Then fill the cavities evenly with the garlic, followed by a few small sprigs of the fresh herbs. Season with salt and pepper.
Flip the artichokes over, using the herbs to help hold in the garlic, so that they are cut-side-down. Brush the tops of the artichokes with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Bake uncovered for 15 minutes. Then remove and cover the pan with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 25-35 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender and the leaves pull off easily.
Place the tray on a cooling rack. Carefully remove, discard the herbs (or stir them into your dipping sauce for extra flavor), and drizzle the artichokes with extra lemon juice.
Serve the roasted artichokes warm with your desired dipping sauce.
Lemony Melted Butter Sauce: 1 part melted butter, 1 part freshly-squeezed lemon juice, 1 part water, and salt and pepper to taste.
You can create your own dipping sauce or just use a nice quality or home made mayonnaise.
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