By: Loretta Sebastiani

Cooking Basic ingredients of Italian cuisine Artichokes


Artichokes: description, nutritive value, how to clean, cut and cook, recipes ...

artichokes, big purple
zoom »


Nutritive value in 100 g edible part

Edible part % 34%
Water g 91.3
Protein g 2.7
Total fat g 0.2
Carbohydrates g 2.5
Total dietary fiber g 5.5
Food energy kcal 22
kJ 92
Sodium mg 133
Potassium mg 376
Iron mg 1.0
Calcium mg 86
Phosphorus mg 67
Thiamin mg 0.06
Riboflavin mg 0.10
Niacin mg 0.50
Vitamin A µg 18
Vitamin C mg 12

The scientific name is: Cynara cardunculus scolymus

Description and cultivation. Cynara cardunculus (artichoke) is a typical plant in Southern Europe around the Mediterranean Sea. Italy is one of the most important producer but artichokes are cultivated in a lot of countries included the United States (California). It's a perennial thistle, 1.5 - 2 m tall with arching, deeply lobed, silvery glaucous-green leaves. The artichoke is the bud of this plant.
Every bud is supported by a stem and contains the heart, a thickened receptacle very tasty to eat. On the top of the heart there is the choke, a mass of immature florets that are inedible in the older, larger artichokes. The choke is surrounded by rows of petals (scientific name: bracts) which protect the heart and are divided into inner and outer. In some varieties the bracts finish with tiny thorns. Look at the photos for more details.

Artichoke varieties. There are a lot of artichoke varieties according to the bract colours, the thorn presence and the size.
In Italy we have the purple, medium-size artichokes from Chioggia or Sant'Erasmo (Venetian region) or from Tuscany or Catania (Siciy).
Among the spined artichokes: a variety from Sardinia, another from Liguria and at last from Palermo (Sicily).
But the well known artichoke is the big purple from Rome (Romanesco or Mammola).

Nutritive value of artichokes. They are very rich in fiber and water and very low in fat, calories and carbo. For these reasons you should choose the artichokes in your weekly diet frequently from March to May when they are available. We remember you a smaller crop is produced also in October. On the contrary in Italy we are able to find them from October to May because the cultivation is very different.
The artichokes have a lot of cynarin. It is located especially in the pulp of the leaves but also in dried leaves and stems. Cynarin increases the bile production, makes easy the digestion, helps the liver function, lowers HDL/LDL ratio. This reduces cholesterol levels, which diminishes the risk for arteriosclerosis and coronary heart disease.

How to choose artichokes. Choose artichokes that are dark green, heavy, and have "tight" leaves. Don't select globes that are dry looking or appear to be turning brown. The leaves haven't to be too "open".

How to preserve artichokes. After harvesting they remain quite fresh for two weeks or longer. If you buy the artichokes very fresh you can preserve them plunging their stems in water as you are used to make with flowers. On the contrary you should put them in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 2-3 days.
You can also freeze the artichokes but only if they are very fresh. Don't freeze them raw for they will turn brown and lose their taste. Carlo and I have the habit of cleaning the artichokes, cutting them into quarters and boil all the pieces for 4 minutes in salt lemon water. Then we drain them very well and arrange in a cold-resistant serving plate, dividing them accurately. We freeze them and after 24 hours we put the artichoke pieces, well freezed, in a plastic bag. We make this step very quickly.
Freezing artichokes in this way, we can take the number of artichokes we need without thawing all the artichokes. You can preserve them in oil too!

How to clean the artichokes. The centre of the stem, the whole heart, the base of the petals are edible. In the baby artichokes the choke is edible too! So you have to remove the outer petal, cut off the pointed top, snap off the stalk and cut according to the recipe directions. Remember you have to plunge the artichoke pieces into lemon water as just as you've cut them to prevent discoloration.

How to eat the artichokes. The artichokes can be eaten raw or cooked. If you have Baby artichokes eat them raw. Clean and plunge into lemon water until you eat them. In this way they preserve all their properties.
Spined artichokes are perfect to be sauted while Big Purple such as Romanesco (mammola) should be filled with different ingredients according to the authentic regional recipes from Italy; they can be also fried.
Besides artichokes can be the most important ingredients for pasta sauce, risotto, appetizers, pizza, main dishes with meat oor fish. In Italy we also use them for winter and spring soups combined for example with fava beans, peas ...

Cooking artichokes. If you cook them whole you need 30-40 minutes or less according to their size. If they are divided into quarters you need less time, 10-15 minutes. Obviously the frying time is different.

Match the wine. Impossible. The best choice is an amber beer.

blog comments powered by Disqus