As a child of Italian immigrants, I had always thought the subtle delight of tasting artichokes was our “secret” because most other South Africans had no idea what they were, and even today many know artichokes only as those in cans or bottled hearts. Sometimes an almost original pizza is garnished or served as part of an appetizer.
Just like growing up in the ’60s, when we were not only familiar with apartheid, but we also had our own “apartheid.” We were the “immigrants” who were considered along with the Boras, the Greeks, the Poles, and even the Chinese (yes, the nuns in the monastery were quite rebellious in defying the government’s ban on Chinese and people of color attending their schools) outsiders and made fun of the strange things we ate. From the basic, fit English kids in our school to the ragged Afrikaans “ducktails” hanging around the streets of our neighborhood, we were the outsiders.
Perhaps my belief that no one, except us, enjoyed those artichoke dishes goes back to our school days when we opened sandwiches at recess and laughed about it because we had everything but peanut butter and jam and marmite or fish paste on our sirmi. The look and smell of garlic roasted pork or leftovers Vitello Tonato On our sandwiches were greeted with raised noses and disgust.
Inviting friends to our house was torture if my mother was cooking El Bolito (boiled meat served with a delicious green sauce) or liver and onions in La Veneziana Or God forbid. tripa (tripe) and polenta! The terror on their faces as they raised their noses. I wished then, more than anything, that I wasn’t Italian!
But I had a more serious problem on my hands when they came… and that was keeping them away from one of our back rooms in the yard where my dad kept rabbits. An old fashioned patriarch who didn’t like children very much, he forbade us from cuddling rabbits because they were only good for one thing – to skin on Saturday so we could enjoy coniglio alla cacciatora.
So we formed our “food brothers”, enjoying each other’s rich cuisine as we found sanctuary in each other’s kitchens. We understand how it is different; We appreciated the taste of grilled sardines for the neighboring Portuguese family; Grilled lamb or taramasalata was known to our Greek friends that Perugia A Polish family he was a close relative of our ravioli or tortellini and was amazed at the way our Chinese friends expertly pick up Peking duck or dim sum with their chopsticks. We were, in fact, a unique federation of food-loving nations.
The only friend who liked our food was our next-door neighbor who was from a very typical South African/English family – complete with a cook and house man in white shorts and shirt with red stripe down the side who was called to bring in at dinner by ringing the bell. Their relatively large family of eight ate later than we did, so their youngest daughter came to play around the time at dinner. I loved my mom’s homemade pasta, greedily licking her veal marsala sauce Scalpini from her plate.
I, in turn, would go to her house where they always had their pudding – usually jelly and custard, peach and cream, or malva pudding. Dessert is reserved in our house for Easter or Christmas when a great tiramisu or zaglioni is served with finger biscuits. I loved that English dessert and the trade we started was a win-win for both of us. Sadly, I had to deal with her older siblings who used to chase and harass me by chanting “Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Italian girl.”
But let’s go back to the artichokes that dominate our lives in October each year. An ancient vegetable beloved by the Greeks and Romans, Greek myth says that the artichoke owes its existence to Zeus who paid a visit to his brother Poseidon, discovering a wonderful girl named Cynara bathing on the beach. He fell madly in love with her, seduced her, made her a goddess, and took her with him to Mount Olympus. Cynara was not happy about being away from home, she snuck into the house to visit her family which angered Zeus who, in a fit of mood, threw her from Olympus and turned her into an artichoke. Hence, the scientific name of artichoke is Cynara cardunculus. The thorny reputation of artichokes was demonstrated when Italian Renaissance painter Caravaggio found himself in prison for attacking a waiter in a restaurant about how to distinguish a dish of artichokes — some cooked in butter, others in oil.
But it was the Romans – in Roman times and in Italy today – who saw the artichoke almost as a national flower (it’s actually a variety thistle flower) because it brought with it pain and euphoria. National Geographic He published a fascinating treatise on the history of the artichoke tracing its origins, legends, and writings by Pliny the Elder in the first century in Rome, on its medicinal benefits which included curing baldness, fortifying the stomach, refreshing the soul, and as an aphrodisiac that resulted in the concept of boys. The Romans ate it pickled with honey and vinegar and seasoned with cumin.
After the fall of Rome, it was the Arabs who picked up this spiky delicacy and introduced it to Spain, but it was the indomitable Catherine de Medici who arrived in France from Florence at the age of fourteen to marry the future Henry II, who turned the humble artichoke into a delicacy. Not knowing what to find in France, she and her court crossed the Alps, bringing with them her chefs, her favorite products and recipes.
It is credited with introducing the use of silver fork-shaped cutlery to the French, and it is recorded that it introduced them to the magical properties of the artichoke they were so fond of and which, due to its excessive sexual reputation, shocked the most conservative of French. From there the artichoke spread throughout Europe and England and Henry VIII was said to be much loved – which undoubtedly added to his manliness. Thus, the modern term artichoke is a mixture of Arabic Celery convert to spanish Karchova Italian artichoke and English artichoke.
The torment of the artichoke is in preparation. Going to such trouble to wring out those tough outer leaves, trim them, soak them in lemon water and then prepare them is madness, but, like an aphrodisiac, we can’t resist, drawn to that tender heart that actually trembles. Your taste buds give you a boost of fiber, folate, vitamins C and K, lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, are diuretic, have antioxidant benefits, and are addictive. And if you think the Romans are good for your sex life.
It all starts with a phone call. To Carreira’s Fruit & Veg Market on Republic Road in Ferndale to be exact. “Are they there yet? Why not? How much do you have left?” Once you get your first box of them, you’re already stressing about whether they’ll still be on sale next week. Remember, it’s only available in October and you have a few weeks to indulge in. We’ll never forget the first year we picked our 50 artichokes out of a tower of boxes that went all the way to the ceiling, only to come back the next week and they’re all gone. Incredibly, I asked, who else eats artichokes?
Marco Rubani and his sister Lisa Matthews of Tuscany Herbs and Fresh Produce grow artichokes, kale, and unusual vegetables and herbs on the farm where they grew up in Muldersdrift, near the Cradle of Humankind. The artichoke has long, tapering leaves and a deep purple color. The problem is in the preparation. As Italians, we are governed by the kitchen of the region we come from, and how our grandmothers and mothers prepare dishes. No two regions in Italy, even if they are located side by side, make dishes the same way. In our house, my husband’s family is from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and my family is from Piemonte – worlds apart in how everything from classic lasagna to the perfect risotto is made.
While there are many easy ways to cook artichokes the Italian way – from boiling them and then serving them with vinaigrette to roasting them in olive oil, wine, garlic and herbs to sautéing them the Roman-Jewish way – I was taught by my mother that the only way to enjoy this heavenly food of the gods was to stuff it .
So we do the things we do… which can take a long time. First you need to peel off a layer of the outer leaves, cut the ends off the top and trim the stems—which are actually as tasty as hearts—to add to the bowl. While the artichoke is soaked in lemon water, you prepare the filling. Finely chop the prosciutto slices koto and prosciutto Crudo de Parma (cooked pork and parmesan) with thyme, sage and oregano, add Parmesan cheese, Asiago Or pecorino romano, garlic, spices and mix them with an egg.
Then comes the daunting task of stuffing the artichoke, from the inside to the outer leaves. Then you put it in a heavy saucepan, fry in olive oil until the bottom pops and caramelize and then add the white wine. Once evaporated, add the broth in intervals and cover to a slow boil. This takes a few hours, and towards the end of cooking, the juices reduce to form a rich, gelatinous bowl that blends the unique flavor of artichokes with the saltiness of bacon and cheese.
Finally, as history has shown, we get to the ecstasy part of enjoying this ancient delicacy. Served with a simple rice dish Ala Milanese (Italian Arborio rice with saffron) Or throw some tagliatelle in a rich artichoke sauce, or simply with fresh, crunchy bread, this is a meal fit for Zeus, Caesar, Catherine de Medici, Caravaggio…and all lovers of this prickly choc! DM/TGIF Good
Giuli Uso is the owner of GO Communications.
#agony #ecstasy #aphrodisiac #artichoke