Thursday, June 14, 2007

Artichokes, the World's Tastiest Thistle


The origins of artichokes date back to the time of the Greek philosopher and naturalist Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.), who wrote about their growth in Italy and Sicily. Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes an aphrodisiac and in Greece they were also thought to be effective in securing the birth of boys. In the 1800s, French immigrants brought artichokes to the United States when they settled in the Louisiana Territory. In the latter part of the 1800s, French colonists established artichokes in the Monterey area of California. California is now the world's largest producer of artichokes. In the 1920s, Ciro Terranova "Whitey", a member of the mafia known as the "Artichoke King," began his monopoly of the artichoke market by purchasing all the produce shipped to New York from California for $6 a crate. He created a produce company and sold the artichokes at a 30-40% profit. This later led to "the artichoke wars" and the mayor of New York at the time, Fiorello La Guardia banned the sale, display and possession of artichokes. The ban was lifted after only one week when the mayor admitted that he himself loved the vegetable.


Artichokes contain the chemical, cynarin, which researchers are finding benefits the liver. Silymarin is another compound found in artichokes that has powerful anti-oxidant properties. A medium artichoke has 25 calories and provides phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, chromium, potassium, iron and calcium. They are also a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and folate. They are low in sodium and have no fat or cholesterol. They can help reduce the risk of many kinds of heart disease, cancer and birth defects.

Artichoke Trivia:

• Artichokes are a member of the flowering thistle family.

• In 1949, Marilyn Monroe was crowned the Artichoke Queen of California.

• The word artichoke was taken from the Italian word "articiocco" which means pinecone.

• The Roman goddess Cynara, was said to have been turned into an artichoke for all eternity by Jupiter.

• The artichoke was once considered to be an aphrodisiac.

• 99% of commercially grown artichokes are cultivated in California.

• Each year an artichoke festival is held in Castroville, California.

• Artichokes are great treats for the diabetic diet, due to their low calories, low carbohydrates and high fiber.

• Artichokes are thought to be one of the rare foods for which there is no proper wine pairing because they impart a sweetness to anything that follows them.


Artichoke Soup

Serving Size: 10


• 20 fresh artichokes

• 2 tablespoons kosher salt

• 3 sliced lemons

• 2 oz. olive oil

• ½ cup diced celery

• ½ cup diced leeks

• 1 cup diced white onions

• ½ cup diced shallots

• 1 tablespoon minced garlic

• 1 bay leaf

• 1 quart vegetable stock

• 5 ounces sliced truffles

• opal basil oil

• salt and pepper to taste

Simmer the artichokes in salted lemon water until tender. Remove them from the water and cool in an ice bath. Peel away the leaves. Remove the hearts and bottoms and dice them.

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil and add the celery, leeks, onions, shallots and garlic and sauté until tender.

Add the diced artichokes, bay leaf and stock and simmer for approximately 45 minutes.

Remove from the heat, remove the bay leaf, puree the soup in a blender and strain through a strainer.

Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper and adjust the consistency with additional stock if necessary.

Pour the soup into hot soup bowls. Garnish with sliced truffles and opal basil oil and serve.

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