September 6 - 12, 2015: Issue 230

Artichoke – The Flower Vegetable that Crops in Spring 

Artichoke head with flower in bloom by
Artichoke – The Flower Vegetable that Crops in Spring

These wonderful vegetables from a flower are currently in season in Australia which makes September a great month to eat the best of the Australian artichoke crop. Highest of all vegetables in antioxidants, which will look after your body as we changeover from Winter to Spring, artichokes are also good for digestion and lowering cholesterol and with a high Vitamin A content they’re just what those who have spent too much time indoors during the past cold months may need. Isn’t it amazing how Nature produces the crops of vegetables and fruits in season that will keep your body healthy?

The best way to eat them is simply steamed/boiled for around 35 minutes in an uncovered pot (put some lemon juice and salt in if you don’t want them to turn too brown) and removing the leaves one at a time, to eat the fleshy base of the leaf with hollandaise, a simple dip made from balsamic vinegar , olive oil and a touch of fresh garlic or with butter, mayonnaise, aioli, lemon juice, or other sauces. Draw the base of the leaf through your teeth to remove the sweet meat. The fibrous upper part of each leaf is usually discarded after you have eaten the fleshy base part. The heart is eaten when the inedible choke has been peeled away from the base and discarded. The thinner leaves covering the choke are also edible.

Prior to cooking cut off the stem and slice off the top third of the artichoke to expose the centre. 

If you want something a little more complicated some of these ideas may come in handy – serve with a nice salad on the side and you have a good feast for early Spring.

Warm Artichoke Dip
1 large jar artichoke hearts (in water, not oil) chopped
2 cloves Garlic crushed
113g mayonnaise
113g fresh parmesan cheese

Mix all ingredients and pour into ovenproof dish to bake for 15 minutes in a hot oven (180-190 C). Serve with slices of artisan bread or corn chips.  Add a dash of Tabasco to give it a kick if you like.

Classic Stuffed Artichoke
6 whole artichokes
3 slices Italian bread, crumbed
1 clove of garlic crushed
¼ cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano  
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper

Cut off the pointed tips of artichoke leaves, and cut off the stems. Wash and drain. Holding artichoke firmly by base, firmly rap the top of it on a hard surface; this will open it so it can be stuffed.
In a medium bowl combine bread, garlic, parsley, Romano cheese, oregano, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, salt and pepper; mix well.
Press about 1/2 cup of stuffing into each artichoke. Tightly pack stuffed artichokes together in a large heavy saucepan. Add enough water to reach half way up artichokes and add 3 tablespoons oil. Some recipes call for ¼ cup of white wine to be added – to taste.
Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for around 1 hour, or until leaves pull out easily. You can also cook this dish in the oven at 180C by covering the dish – this will take around 20-40 minutes – once again testing artichokes are tender by pulling one leaf out.

Artichoke Pasta – with Pancetta or Tomatoes
1 lemon
8 baby artichokes (about 500 grams – you can cheat and use bottled artichoke hearts if pressed for time)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
60 grams of pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice or 4 x medium tomatoes diced for vegetarians
1/2 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
500 grams spaghetti
1/4 cup freshly grated Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

Fill a large bowl with water and squeeze in lemon juice and then add lemon quartered to bowl. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, peel off the dark green outer leaves. Cut off the top fourth of the artichoke; peel and trim the stem. Slice the artichoke lengthwise at 4cm thick intervals and drop into the lemon water. Repeat with the remaining artichokes.
 In a saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion, garlic and pancetta and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain the artichokes; discard the lemon. Add the artichokes to the saucepan, cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Add the white wine, cover and simmer over moderately low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
 Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta and the reserved cooking water to the artichokes and toss over moderate heat for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, stir in the 1/4 cup of cheese and season with salt and pepper. Serve the pasta, with more cheese at the table with a crisp green salad.

The globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a variety of a species of thistle cultivated as a food. So they are a flower-vegetable!

The edible portion of the plant consists of the flower buds before the flowers come into bloom. The budding artichoke flower-head is a cluster of many budding small flowers (an inflorescence) together with many bracts, on an edible base. Once the buds bloom, the structure changes to a coarse, barely edible form. Another variety of the species is the cardoon, a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean region. Both wild forms and cultivated varieties (cultivars) exist.

The naturally occurring variant of the artichoke, the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), which is native to the Mediterranean area, has records of use as a food among the ancient Greeks and Romans. In North Africa, where it is still found in the wild state, the seeds of artichokes, probably cultivated, were found during the excavation of Roman-period Mons Claudianus in Egypt. Varieties of artichokes were cultivated in Sicily beginning in the classical period of the ancient Greeks; the Greeks calling them kaktos. In that period, the Greeks ate the leaves and flower heads, which cultivation had already improved from the wild form. The Romans called the vegetable carduus (whence the name cardoon). Globe artichokes are known to have been cultivated at Naples around the middle of the 9th century.[citation needed]Further improvement in the cultivated form appears to have taken place in the medieval period in Muslim Spain and the Maghreb, although the evidence is inferential only. Names for the artichoke in many European languages today come from medieval Arabic أرضي شوكي Ardhi Shawki via late medieval Spain (where it is nowadays alcachofa). 

Le Roy Ladurie, in his book Les Paysans de Languedoc, has documented the spread of artichoke cultivation in Italy and southern France in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, when the artichoke appeared as a new arrival with a new name, which may be taken to indicate an arrival of an improved cultivated variety:

The blossom of the thistle, improved by the Arabs, passed from Naples to Florence in 1466, carried by Filippo Strozzi. Towards 1480 it is noticed inVenice, as a curiosity. But very soon veers towards the northwest...Artichoke beds are mentioned in Avignon by the notaries from 1532 onward; from the principle towns they spread into the hinterlands ... appearing as carchofas at Cavaillon in 1541, at Chateauneuf du Pape in 1553, at Orange in 1554. The local name remains carchofas, from the Italian carciofo. They are very small, the size of a hen's egg, and are still considered a luxury, a vaguely aphrodisiac tidbit that one preserved in sugar syrup.
The Dutch introduced artichokes to England, where they grew in Henry VIII's garden at Newhall in 1530. They were brought to the United States in the 19th century, to Louisiana by French immigrants and to California by Spanish immigrants.

The total antioxidant capacity of artichoke flower heads is one of the highest reported for vegetables. Cynarine is a chemical constituent in Cynara. The majority of the cynarine found in artichoke is located in the pulp of the leaves, though dried leaves and stems of artichoke also contain it. It inhibits taste receptors, making water (and other foods and drinks) seem sweet. 

Studies have shown artichoke to aid digestion, liver function and gallbladder function, and raise the ratio of HDL to LDL. This reduces cholesterol levels, which diminishes the risk for arteriosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Aqueous extracts from artichoke leaves have also been shown to reduce cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase and having a hypolipidemic influence, lowering blood cholesterol. Artichoke contains the bioactive agents apigenin and luteolin. C. scolymus also seems to have a bifidogenic effect on beneficial gut bacteria. Its effect in arresting pathogenic bacteria may be attributed to the notable presence of phenolic compounds. Both are higher in the baby anzio artichoke (Cyrnara scolymus). Artichoke leaf extract has proved helpful for patients with functional dyspepsia, and may ameliorate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. 

Old Recipe ideas
In Italy, artichoke hearts in oil are the usual vegetable for "spring" section of the "Four Seasons" pizza (with olives for summer, mushrooms for autumn, and prosciutto for winter). A recipe well known in Rome is Jewish-style artichokes, which are deep-fried whole. 
Stuffed artichoke recipes are abundant. A common Italian stuffing uses a mixture of bread crumbs, garlic, oregano, parsley, grated cheese, and prosciutto or sausage. A bit of the mixture is then pushed into the spaces at the base of each leaf and into the center before boiling or steaming. A similar recipe is popular in coastal Croatia.

In Spain, the more tender, younger, and smaller artichokes are used. They can be sprinkled with olive oil and left in hot ashes in a barbecue, sautéed in olive oil with garlic, with rice as a paella, or sautéed and combined with eggs in a tortilla (frittata).

Often cited is the Greek, aginares a la polita (artichokes city-style, referring to the city of Constantinople), a hearty, savoury stew made with artichoke hearts, potatoes, and carrots, and flavoured with onion, lemon, and dill. The finest examples are to be found on the island of Tinos, and in Iria and Kantia, two small villages in Argolida in the Peloponnese of southern Greece.

Another way to use artichokes is to completely break off all of the leaves, leaving the bare heart. The leaves are steamed to soften the fleshy base part of each leaf to be used as the basis for any number of side dishes or appetizing dips, or the fleshy part is left attached to the heart, while the upper parts of the leaves are discarded. The remaining concave-shaped heart is often filled with meat, then fried or baked in a savoury sauce. Frozen artichoke hearts are a time-saving substitute, though the consistency and stronger flavour of fresh hearts when available is preferred.

Throughout North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, and Armenia, a favourite filling for stuffed artichoke hearts includes ground lamb. Spices reflect the local cuisine of each country. In Lebanon, for example, the typical filling would include lamb, onion, tomato, pinenuts, raisins, parsley, dill, mint, black pepper, and allspice. A popular Turkish vegetarian variety uses only onion, carrot, green peas, and salt. Artichokes are often prepared with white sauces and other sauces. 

Photos: Artichoke head with flower in bloom by
Some varieties of artichoke display purple coloration by Haeferl
Artichoke. (2015, August 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Previous Food pages:

Apricot - January Summer Fruits

Australian and Native Cherries (Summer Fruits) - the Duntroon Connection - Marrianne Collinson Campbell

Autumn is Apple Season

Avalon Chinese Restaurant 

Broccoli - Early Spring Crop

Cabbage - Winter Food

Cherry - Australian summer Fruit

Cranky Fins Holidae Inn

Cranzgot's Pizza Cafe

Duck Creek Macadamias - Orange Obsessions

Easter Feast - modern and historic

Edible Weeds

Fennel - Winter Vegetable

Figs - Late Summer Fruit

Fresh Herbs for Health

Green Beans - Spring Vegetables

Hogmanay (New Year) Dinner - Australian Style

Home Grown Food Program in Fruit and Veg Month by Jess Rosman

Laurie Bimson's Marinated Kangaroo Recipe

Lobster Nights at Club Palm Beach

Mandarins Spring Fruits  Mandarins Winter Fruits

Mangoes - Summer Fruits

Mum'€™s Vegetable Soup with Macaroni

Mushrooms Autumnal Shifts

Nectarines - end of Summer crop

Packham's Triumph Pears - The Australian Pear

Palm Beach Fish and Chips Tops Scale at 10

Parsnip - Winter Vegetables

Pear - Autumn Fruits

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