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Garden Lifestyle

Love Artichokes? Thank the Italians

Personally, anything to do with Italy is utterly fascinating partly because I'm Italian and partly because I've seen "Under the Tuscan Sun" several times.

  • Gorgeous California artichoke   Photo by Magpi-Moon under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • Here's what happens if you allow them to flower.   Photo by Puliarf under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • Over-stuffed artichokes - YUM!   Photo by Joyosity under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • Artichoke hearts on a pizza.   Photo Naotakem under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

Artichokes are not as popular to grow in the home garden as tomatoes; but the hype is huge at the dinner table. I’m going conducting an experiment to see how many of you will add artichokes to your garden plant list to start at the end of winter this season.  First, I have some historical reference for you artichoke lovers and Italy plays the biggest role in my story.

Personally, anything to do with Italy is utterly fascinating partly because I’m Italian and partly because I’ve seen “Under the Tuscan Sun” several times. It doesn’t really matter because everyone knows no one does it better than Italians when it comes to food and cars. Man, what Italians do for cars, am I right?

So, here’s the deal. More than 3000 years ago, all the foodies of the world were munching on artichokes – until Rome took the big bite in the dust. Rome falls and artichokes are forgotten. Go figure.  Around the middle of the 15th century, with a quick palm-to-the-forehead, some Italian peasant remembers the thistly food plant around 2 AM (itsn’t that always the way) and the resurrection of the artichoke has begun.

At this point a lovely Italian princess, Catherine Di Medici, only 14 years old, is married to King Henry II.  I know what you’re thinking and while it smacks of repulsive behavior I’d like to add that this young king was only 14 years old himself (actually, I don’t think he was king when he was 14, but I digress). Anyway, Catherine while responsible for many a key role in France’s history, was less know for her responsibility of bringing her beloved artichokes from her home in Italy to her new home in France. Both French as well as Italian explorers had them aboard their ships and bada-bing, bada-boom – America has a love affair with them and invents mayonnaise.

Due to my Italian heritage, I fully expect to see at least a few token “thank you for the artichokes, Italian person” comments  as I’m sure to get many correcting my historical facts.

A Few Artichoke Growing Facts
The thing about these thistles is that they’re most easily grown in a warm climate as a perennial or biennial. They can also be grown as an annual in cold climates if it’s tricked into thinking it’s two years old instead of only 1 year old. A little harder, I admit, but everything can’t come easily or I would be spoiling you.

  How to grow artichokesLearn more…

How to Grow Artichokes

These Mediterranean plants make themselves quite at home in places like the California coastline where they all but flourish. If you live in USDA Zones 8-11, you’re in luck. They’ll grow as the perennials they were always intended to be. They prefer a pH range of anywhere from 6.5 – 8.0 and want full (that’s 8 hours) of sunshine. They require deep watering and are  fairly heavy feeders, so compost their bed like crazy.

As far as varieties, “Green Globe” has been the most popular plant to grow, however, the newer kid in town is called “Imperial Star” and is suppose to produce 3 times more than the oldie but goodie.

If you’ve seriously never tried artichokes, get thee to the produce department of Whole Foods immediately. Today. Plain old mayonnaise (and by “plain old mayonnaise”, I mean Best Foods Mayonnaise) tastes absolutely wonderful on the ends of their tender leaves. That said, there are many recipes for different mayos like basil mayo, lemon mayo, balsamic vinegar mayo. You can also stuff artichokes with bread crumbs and butter.

Most artichokes are prepared simply by cooking them in a large, covered pot of salted boiling water. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes for them to become tender when pierced with a fork or knife. When you take them out of the boiling water, you turn them upside down onto paper towels to drain thoroughly. You can cook artichokes a day early if you’d like and fancy-shmancy chefs like to snip off the tips of the all the leaves before cooking them to make them look, well…fancy-shmancy.

Perhaps the most well-known part of the artichoke is the delicacy known as the artichoke heart. Even when people don’t want to bother with dipping the external leaves into butter or mayo and scrape it along their bottom teeth to get all the plant’s flesh; they’ll eat nearly anything that has the nutty-flavored hearts in it.

Try this Simple Basil Mayo Recipe
•    1 cup mayonnaise
•    1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
•    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
•    1 garlic clove, minced – I’d probably add a little more garlic, but I’m like that.

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