For a few months now I have enjoyed seeing little three-wheeled trucks (known as ape, or bee, in Italian) parked on the side of the road overflowing with artichokes for sale. I have been wanting to snap a shot of such a sight for weeks now, and finally succeeded. Seeing all those artichokes piled up looking so fresh and green makes my mouth water.
Usually I buy artichokes from my local produce shop, not from these trucks. But the other day we bought a 'fascio' (my translation-big bundle) for 6 Euros. I didn't count, but there must have been 30 artichokes in that bundle.
We got home and had a family artichoke cleaning fest, toddler included. My husband had to re-teach me how to do it, as in the US I have never encountered an artichoke in such a state and I hadn't helped out since our days in Rome. Some might think a lot of work for little return, but I actually find the cleaning phase to be quite meditative: the stem is cut down to a reasonable size, the outer tough leaves are picked off from the flower and discarded entirely, the top third or so of the artichoke is sliced off completley, the outer skin of the stem is peeled off to expose the tender insides, all surfaces are rubbed with lemon to prevent them from turning brown, the cleaned artichoke is soaked in water for about an hour.
The artichoke is now ready to be seasoned and cooked. Although I have no recipe to share (my husband is the expert in all things Italian and doesn't use recipes), I can give you a general idea of how these artichokes were savored. Roman style, our prefered way, means stuffing each choke with garlic and seasoning with mint, followed by steaming in a big pot with a little water, oil, and white wine. Simple and simply delicious.
I should also add that Italian artichokes, and Sicilian ones in particular, are tastier than any I have ever tried in the US. A different type than what is grown back home, no doubt, but I am not knowledgable about articoke varieties and can only say artichokes here are smaller, more flavorful and delicate than those found in the US.
And the best part-eating! I love picking off the leaves and eating the meaty bits, working my way down to the tender leaves that can be eaten whole, and finally the delicate heart cleaned of the fuzz, and the surprise long stems that don't look pretty but can be almost as sweet as the hearts.
So go buy yourself a fascio and have an artichoke fest!