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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Artie the Artichoke

How did a vegetable go from being a favorite food in ancient Rome to being the mascot of a college in Scottsdale, Arizona?

It’s a long and circuitous tale, but the simple answer goes back to the early 1970s (Boomers: Remember those days of college protests?).  The student body became aggrieved at the administration’s refusal yield to their demands in several budgetary areas. In protest, when they were fully empowered to pick a mascot, chose a funny looking vegetable. Go to http://www.gochokes.com/ if you don’t believe this.

Never having tasted an artichoke until I arrived in France many years ago, I was immediately smitten, particularly when I realized how easy they are to prepare (if you have the right shears and a good steamer), and how much fun to eat.

Artichokes Growing in Vietnam

Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean, and most of the world’s crop is still grown in Europe. Italy leads in production, but they are cultivated in warm climates all over the planet, including in the mountains of Vietnam where I was surprised to see them. The vast majority of artichokes consumed in the United States come from Castroville (“The Artichoke Center of the World”, if you ignore the rest of the world) in coastal Monterey County, California.

Terrace Farming, Dalat Vietnam

The plant itself is a thistle, a relative to the pesky weeds that have pretty purple flowers but painful protective needles.

Artichokes can be simply trimmed and steamed, then eaten one leaf at a time, dipping in vinaigrette or mayonnaise, taking a break to trim out the fuzzy ‘choke’ in the center then eating the heart. Or, the cooked artichoke’s fuzz can be eliminated in the kitchen, and the whole thing stuffed with seasoned breadcrumbs, then baked (a little more decadent).

Baby artichokes do not require as much trimming. One personal favorite dish in Roman cuisine is “carciofa alla guida”, baby artichokes in the Jewish style, a specialty of the Trastevere neighborhood. These are simply baby artichokes fried in olive oil. Just delicious, and they can also be found at Fiorello’s in New York City.

Jarred, marinated baby artichokes are always there for the lazier artichoke lover who wants nice addition to antipasto.

As for Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, this vegetable tastes vaguely of artichoke, but it is not even remotely related.

Jerusalem Artichokes, aka Sunchokes

Native to North America, this is a type of sunflower which produces tubers at its roots, and can turn into an invasive weed, so home gardeners, beware!

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4 thoughts on “Artie the Artichoke

  1. Good story. You will not find whole artichokes on restaurant menus any more. Why? It takes too long to eat them and restaurants are driven by revenue by square foot. You will not find artichoke bottoms on menu either, because they take too long to prepare in the kitchen. Fortunately bottoms are available canned, ready to use and when a fancy filling is added they look wonderful. I remember the bottoms stuffed with peas or carrot puree and also a dish called artichokes barigoule, they were stuffed with a special kind of mushroom puree.The small fried artichokes you described are delicious and marinated artichokes have found their way from anipasto platters to dips via the mixer.

  2. Joe Rugus on said:

    Like many men, I find artichokes an unfavorite food. Sorry……………j

  3. Nancy Rugus on said:

    I am surprised you never had them growing up. My mother was a big fan (NYer and Irish English decent to boot!) and so I had them when I was young – basically steamed/boiled and eaten leaf by leaf dipped in drawn butter (yes really drawn by my grandmother) Yummy!! It was an occasional feast for me when I came home from school – when we could find them in the markets in Queens.

  4. Lula Kopper on said:

    My mother was also a fan, and we used to have them for lunch occasionaly steamed and eaten leaf by leaf dipped in melted butter (not drawn). Once when in California, I ate at the Giant Artichoke Restaurant in Castroville. We had them fried – the only time I have had fried artichokes. They were delicious at the time, but I remember being sick afterwards from too much grease.

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