Artichokes are my favorite vegetable, when in season. They are not a vegetable, but a flower, or better a thistle: if you let the plant grow without cutting the thistle you will have a beautiful decorative flower with strong and multicolored leaves.
They have been known in the Mediterranean basin, and consumed by the Egyptian and Arabs, since the 4th century AD. But it is really in Italy in the 15th century that the cultivation of artichokes became extensive. Since then, it never stopped as the health benefits of artichokes are numerous, the taste unique, and it is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a multitude of recipes.
Artichokes are known to be helpful to lower blood sugar, to lower blood pressure, to have digestive properties, to stimulate the liver functions. They are very rich in fibers, very low in calories, and they provide a bountiful of important elements in a natural way: iron, potassium, magnesium, vitamins.
So why don’t we eat artichokes everyday? Well, talking with friends I discovered that many people are intimidated by the fresh artichokes, not knowing very well how to clean and cook them. And often people have a bad experience: after spending half an hour prepping and cooking, they end up with a vegetable on their plate that it is so hard to chew that it becomes
unpleasant and hard to eat.
A couple of good suggestions will help fix that!
First: the variety. I could name ten varieties of artichokes grown in Italy and know what they are best for: to be consumed raw, fried, steamed, sautéed; what the prime season is (generally February to May/June); which region is best known for each variety, and so on.
Here in the US, artichokes are available year-round, and for the most part it is one variety, the huge ones, with very hard stems. This variety is good only for boiling and eating the French way: removing the leaves and dipping them into a mustard sauce.
So, rule of thumb: whenever I find the SMALLER artichokes, I buy them, as the size is an important factor in guaranteeing a soft artichoke. Usually, Trader Joe’s carries this variety for an extremely reasonable price (no publicity here, just mere facts). Choose the ones with closed leaves, as compact as possible (sign that it is a younger thistle), as ash green as possible (outer yellowing leaves are a sign of age).
And get ready to have a blast!
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For 4 Servings
1 cup Carnaroli rice
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 tablespoons of EV Olive Oil
½ glass of white table wine
1 pint chicken stock preprepared (or vegetable stock)
1 cup rinsed blueberries
1 cup roasted chestnuts or more, chopped in big pieces
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons gorgonzola cheese (optional)