Saturday 23 September 2006

artichokes with lemon & garlic

I am a huge fan of antipasto. The idea of snacking on a variety of different flavours and textures is so much more exciting than ploughing through a huge plate of one dish.

Italians, Greeks, Spaniards and Middle Eastern countries have perfected the antipasto/tapas/mezze tradition. Bliss.

Artichokes are particularly good in antipasto. They have a very mature flavour and the texture I would describe as softly toothsome.

I didn’t know much about artichokes until I did some research for this post. They are intriguing little veggies with an interesting culinary history.

I am also a huge fan of lemon and garlic. What better then to combine these three delights into a wonderful antipasto/appetizer that can be eaten hot or cold.

I discovered this recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website and the only changes I made was to increase both the lemon and garlic measurements.

Enjoy and please read on to discover some interesting tidbits about the artichoke.

Pan-Roasted Artichokes with Lemon & Garlic
Recipe by Williams-Sonoma. Serves 4 as an appetizer or side.

3 lemons, quartered
4 large artichokes
½ cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
10 peeled garlic cloves, crushed
1. Fill a large bowl with water. Squeeze the juice from the quarters of 1 lemon into the bowl.
2. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, remove the tough outer leaves to expose the light yellow core.
3. Peel the stem end of the artichoke, keeping about 1 inch of the stem intact and exposing the pale, tender core.
4. Trim 1 inch off the top of the artichoke and cut the artichoke in half lengthwise through the center. Using the tip of a spoon, scoop out the furry choke. Add the cleaned artichoke halves to the lemon water. Keep the artichokes in the water until ready to cook (they may be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days).
5. Just before cooking, spread the artichokes on paper towels, sliced side down, to drain and pat dry.
6. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until nearly smoking. Sprinkle the pan generously with salt and pepper.
7. Carefully place the artichokes, sliced side down, in the pan, making sure they lie flat.
8. Season with salt and pepper and slip the garlic into the spaces between the artichokes.
9. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally to keep the artichokes from sticking, until they are evenly browned underneath, 6 to 10 minutes.
10. Using tongs, lift 1 or 2 artichokes up to check they are ready.
11. Add the lemon to the pan, place a piece of foil over the pan and cover with a lid.
12. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and keep covered.
13. Let the artichokes cool to room temperature, 30 to 45 minutes.
14. Transfer the artichokes to a serving platter. Squeeze the juice from the cooked lemon wedges into the pan and whisk to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the pan bottom. Pour the juice over the artichokes and serve. The word artichoke most commonly refers to the globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus L.), a species of thistle that gets its name from Arabic ارضي شوكي ardi shauki or ارضي شوك ardi shauk which translates to "ground thorn".

The part of the artichoke that is eaten is the base of the head or bud, also known as the receptacle. It is considered a vegetable because the bud is harvested before fruit has a chance to develop.

The plants can grow to 2m tall, with silver-green leaves. The flowers develop in the edible bud and are a deep purple colour.

There is a great deal of deabte around the cardoon’s relationship to the globe artichoke. The cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) is said to be the wild version and the globe artichoke came from its cultivation over thousands of years. Some scholars believe that references to artichokes in Ancient Greek and Roman texts could have been referring to the cardoon not the globe artichoke we know today.

Globe artichokes originate in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean and are said to be one of the oldest foods know to humans.

In Ancient Greece and Rome, artichokes were considered an aphrodisiac. Perhaps this can be attributed to the legend of their origin: an Ancient Greek myth talks of a young woman called Cynara who attracted the attention of the alpha god Zeus. He made her a goddess and his mistress but when he caught her returning to the mortal realm to visit her family he grew angry and transformed her into the plant we know as the artichoke.

Records show artichokes being grown in Sicily as early 287B.C. In the 1st century A.D. rich Romans ate artichokes with honey, vinegar and cumin.

Once Rome fell, artichokes faded from the forefront of diets and then, around 800 A.D., became the domain of the Moors who grew them in their Spanish territories. This may be the source of the English word for artichoke (Arabic ardi shauk rather than Greek cynar).

Globe artichokes were cultivated again in Naples in the mid-1400s and at this time only men could eat artichokes because they were believed to have aphrodisiacal qualities that increased sexual prowess. This didn’t bother Catherine de Medici who introduced the artichoke to France and saw the acceptance of women’s consumption of the artichoke as a sign of modern progression.

In 1576, Dr. Bartolomeo Boldo wrote that artichokes "provoke Venus for both men and women; for women making them more desirable, and helping the men who are in these matters rather tardy."

German tourist in Italy, Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) was horrified to see "the peasants eat thistles".

It was the Dutch who brought globe artichokes to the English speaking world and Henry VIII grew them in his garden.

They were spread to North America by French and Spanish settlers and Italian immigrants brought them to Australia. In my green grocer I most commonly see the Anzio variety from Lazio.

Artichokes have had a tumultuous history in the USA. In the 1920s, a Monterey County (California) landowner rented his property to Italians to start the country’s most prolific production zone. Needless to say he made a fortune.

During the same period, NYC Mayor, La Guardia, banned the presence and sale of artichokes in the city due to the serious “Artichoke Wars” led by Mafioso Ciro Terranova. Terranova was behind a complete monopolisation of all produce coming from the west coast as well as the destruction of farms and the intimidation of merchants and distributors. The ban lasted one week because even Mayor La Guardia admitted he loved the artichoke too much to go without.

Today, the globe artichoke is commercially grown mainly in France, Italy, and Spain and even though Castroville in California claims it is the global artichoke centre, this is not internationally accurate.

Artichokes can be steamed or boiled then their petals plucked. Diners can then dip each petal in flavoured butter or oil and suck the soft inner end before discarding the outer part. The base is also edible, although the hairy choke must be removed first.

Alternatively all the scaly petals can be removed before cooking to leave the edible heart. This can be preserved, sautéed and even battered and deep fried.

Artichokes are also used to make drinks such as Italy’s liqueur Cynar (named after the Greek beauty) or Vietnam’s artichoke tea from Dalat.

According to the Californian Artichoke Advisory Board artichokes are:
• low in calories,
• low in sodium,
• fat free,
• cholesterol free,
• a good source of fiber,
• a good source of vitamin C,
• a good source of folate,
• a good source of magnesium.

Be sure to visit this week's Weekend Herb Blogging recap at Kalyn's Kitchen.

Also, everyone should be aware that next weekend is the one year anniversary of Weekend Herb Blogging so Kalyn is asking all bloggers to write about their all time favourite herb and to contribute recipes that celebrate that herb. Afterwards she'll be doing a tally and will annouce what the most popular herb is. Those with blogs can post about their herb and those without can still take part by leaving a comment on Kalyn's blog. Hope you can contribute to this!




  1. Great post!! (Gosh, at the risk of showing my age, I would have loved to have had you for a student!!)

    Williams Sonoma is great. And I love your description of artichokes as "softly toothsome".

    Thanks for mentioning the one year celebration. All week I'm doing "year in review" posts of all the interesting things people have written about.

  2. Wonderful! And it looks so appetising :)

  3. thanks mae. it tasted bring damn good.

    and kalyn, thanks for my A+. a gold star is good to get no matter how old you are.

    i always tried to be the teacher's pet but they never liked me much. must have been my incessant talking that turned them off :P


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