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Artichoke Love: You Gotta Have Heart

July 30, 2012

“Remind me to tell you about the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke.”

That line is delivered by Bette Davis at her sarcastic best in the 1950 Joseph L. Mankiewicz film All About Eve. It’s aimed at her director boyfriend after he tells the conniving actress Eve about the time he “looked into the wrong end of a movie camera finder”.

Davis’s insecure Margo never does tell the story, and I remember as a teenager waiting until the end of the film for some wonderful revelation about  artichoke hearts so I could look at them differently the next time my mother cooked them.

It’s almost the end of the artichoke season, so I’m cramming. My favourite way of cooking them is stuffed and braised, sometimes with peas, but there’s many other ways to enjoy them: fried, shaved in salads, steamed and marinated. I recall having a delicious artichoke omelette (frittata di carciofi) in Florence in 1983 but my attempt at recreating it back in Sydney turned out a chewy, spiky, overcooked mess. Too many leaves, not enough heart apparently.Cooking with artichoke halves

If you don’t pray at the alter of the globe artichoke, if the thought of eating a thistle makes you bristle, here’s 10 things to know:

. ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac

. they act as a diuretic, improve liver function and reduce cholesterol levels

. fresh artichokes should squeak when squeezed

. Marilyn Monroe was the first official ‘California Artichoke Queen’ in 1948*

. Cynar, the Italian after-dinner ‘digestivo’ contains the bitter extract of artichoke leaves

Think I’ll skip the other five and segue to a cocktail I’ll be drinking as a substitute until their appearance next winter.Cynar liqueur bottle

I love a ‘Spritz’, the classic northern Italian drink made with many types of bitters – Cynar (Padua); Campari (Trieste and Venice) and Aperol (Treviso) – in equal parts with Prosecco and sparkling water, as well as orange slices or olives.

Cynar has Sicilian origins and has been sold since the early 1950s, often promoted in Italian ads as a cure for the stress of modern life.

More artichoke information is included in the excellent ‘Artichoke Blog’. It’s been on hiatus since last year, but has everything you need to know about traditional Italian regional recipes, history and fun facts.

Here’s a nice recipe for Roman-style artichokes from SBS’s Italian Food Safari with Maeve O’Meara and Guy Grossi.

*Apparently, the title was bestowed upon Norma Jean when she was spotted promoting diamonds in a store in Castroville, CA and invited to tour its famous artichoke fields. A sash was thrown over her shoulders, and bingo, she was the first Artichoke Queen.

Cynar image: Shabbychef

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…

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8 comments

  1. One of my first food forays to Italy included a brief stay with food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins, and the first time I got a chance to try something other than a globe artichoke. I enjoy trying the multiple varieties, and the number of baby artichokes you raise in Italy. And watching how quickly the vendors in the markets can prepare a raw heart for you – wish they did that here!


    • Here in Sydney we only have about three varieties. A lot of people seem a bit timid about cooking them as they think they’re too complicated. I’m definitely on a mission now to help spread the word before next year’s harvest. I might even try to grow some!


  2. fried wild artichoke hearts in extra virgin olive(of course) are a pretty special Calabrian dish


    • Sounds mouthwatering Rocco. I’ve seen a recipe for these that includes grated pecorino and breadcrumbs. Gotta get me some asap.


  3. i’ve been to the artichoke restaurant in Calif. I can remember ordering about 8 different dishes so I could sample each way they were made. Love all the artichoke facts here.


    • Thanks. I had no idea about the California/artichoke connection. Sounds like a great place to visit.


  4. About half told stories in films.. I was always partial to the one about the one legged jockey in Some Like It Hot (1959). You never heard the actual joke, but the punchline is “don’t worry about me. I ride side-saddle”.

    Love a squeaky artichoke as well.

    And your blog


    • Damn you Augie and your good memory for film quotes. Now I’ll have to re-watch SLIH just for that gag. Talking about re-watching, I hadn’t seen All About Eve for about 15 years and loved it all over again when I watched it last week. Such cracking dialogue. Back to the choke.



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