food and wineIssue 21

Artichoke in Season

By Noel Daniel

Did you know that the artichoke is a species of thistle that was cultivated to be a food? The artichoke we all know and love—specifically, the globe artichoke—is essentially an unbloomed flower bud. The budding head of the artichoke “flower” is actually a cluster of a number of  small flowers, and it all has an edible base.  Once the buds bloom, though, the structure changes and becomes something that’s coarse and barely edible.

But there is a naturally-occurring variant of the artichoke called the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). The cardoon is native to the Mediterranean and was purportedly used as a food in ancient Greece and Rome. Different artichoke varieties were cultivated in Sicily around the time of the ancient Greek classical period. The Greeks called them kaktos, but these days we’re pretty sure everyone just calls them “delicious.”

Even back then, the Greeks were slowly cultivating the plant so that the leaves and flower heads were more edible than their wild form. The plant was even further refined in the medieval period of Muslim Spain, although apparently this evidence is loose at best. We just know that our name for the artichoke in several European languages actually comes from medieval Arabic’s “Ardhi Shawki.”

The book Les Paysans de Languedoc, written by Le Roy Ladurie, documents the spread of artichoke cultivation in Italy and southern France. By this time— which was the late 15th and early 16th centuries— the artichoke had a revival. It had a new cultivation process and a new name, which is one step closer to the delicious dip that we can‘t get enough of on our tortilla chips.

But it’s not just dip you can consume it as—in fact, “artichoke tea” is a product of the Da Lat region of Vietnam. And in Mexico, there’s an herbal tea called alcachofa wherein the flower portion of the plant is put into water. Apparently it has a bitter, woody taste. If you’re looking for something a little stronger, then pick up a bottle of the Italian liqueur Cynar. It’s a 33-proof drink with artichoke as the primary flavor. You can serve it over ice or as a cocktail mixed with orange juice—which is popular in Switzerland.

Our personal favorite way to eat artichoke, however, is either grilled or in a scrumptious dip. So grab a bag of tortilla chips, turn the page, and dig into a bowlful of goodness. Or take a sip of some artichoke tea. It’s your preference, really.

shutterstock_162420884Artichoke Dip


1 cup thawed frozen spinach, chopped
1 ½ cup thawed frozen artichoke hearts, chopped 6 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
1⁄3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder


Boil the spinach and artichokes together in a cup of water until they’re tender. Then discard the liquid. Heat the cream cheese in the microwave for one minute or until soft. Then stir in the rest of the ingredients and serve hot.



shutterstock_261997370Grilled Marinated Artichokes


4 large artichokes, rinsed, trimmed leaf tips ¼ cup + ½ teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
1⁄3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper


  1. Fill a large pot ¾ full with water, then add ¼ cup of the salt and boil. Once boiling, add the artichokes to the pot. Weight the artichokes with a heavy dish or bowl and simmer until the bottoms are tender and can be pierced. You can also test if it’s ready if an outer leaf pulls out easily. This will take about 15 minutes. Drain the artichokes upside down in a colander until cool.
  2. Cut the artichokes in half and discard the choke and purple leaves. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, parsley, remaining salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add the artichoke halves and toss to coat, then let marinate for 2 to 4 hours, turning occasionally.
  3. Preheat the grill to medium-high, then remove the artichokes from the marinade and grill until warmed through and lightly charred around the edges. This will take about 5 minutes.

Dipping Sauce:

Use ½ cup mayo, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and a tablespoon of ground cayenne pepper.

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