“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.
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.
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
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