Photo courtesy of google, artichokes in their natural growing splendor
May, proud month of the artichoke. Spring vegetables highlight natures wisdom in that they are active, natural detoxifiers, plus many are as well are anti-inflammatory, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins. All the things the body needs as it awakens from the slumber and protective action and intake related to cold weather.
Artichokes, a particular favorite of mine from childhood, are one of the bounties of spring. Wisely they come to us in spring as they are a food for cleansing, natural detoxification; rich in fiber and stimulators to the secretion of bile and gastric juices which aid proper digestion and metabolism. They assist our bodies in cleaning the heaviness of winter and creating lightness and space to enjoy the summer months.
Eating in season is something as an American I was only vaguely aware of due to the seasonal dishes of holidays in my Spanish/Italian influenced family. Generally, in America everything is available all the time. When I first went to live in Russia in 1996 I was quickly educated on the value, and practicality, of eating foods in season. Fiddleheads, mandarins, mushrooms, berries, cabbage, and beets, all had their time and their purpose at table. Living in Turkey in the 2000’s was a similar explosion of seasonal delights. In fact, the first time I was ever in Turkey was in May and to this day the smell of citrus blossoms brings a smile to my heart. Anyone who has ever been to an open-air market in a country known for its cuisine can recall the color, the bustle, and the perfume of seasonal delicacies and staples alike.
This month Mom will visit us, and we will share a family adventure in Spain, visiting the birthplace of her grandfather, my great-grandfather (Papa), in Andalusia. This makes the star vegetable of my childhood the perfect story for the recipes of the month, as all other posts in May will also follow this theme.
Ironically, my earliest memories of artichokes are at Christmas time. Mom's recipe was to stuff them with parmesan cheese, butter, and bread crumbs, then steam them to perfection. Everything about this dish was happy for me, that it had to be eaten with my fingers, that it was playful to eat, the golden deliciousness of the combination of ingredients, and the treasure hunt of eating that leads literally to the heart of the matter. When I began to cook myself, I discovered that even steamed plain, leaves dipped in butter, this vegetable is nectar for every eating sensation. Recently I made this for friends in Milan and I was surprised to see the varying ways in which people approach the eating of this delight, preferences for olive oil over butter, and even eating the entire leaf. Definitely a direct source of fiber, I prefer to dip the bottom half in butter and then scrape the inside of each leaf with my teeth, delighting in every bite, and the artichoke gives the space for creativity in preparation and consumption.
Center left steamed artichoke opened to be in full blossom. Right top and middle blossoming artichokes from a different angle, lower right courtesy of google
When I came to live in Europe, I was delighted to discover all sorts of artichoke dishes plus types of artichokes themselves. Most peculiar for me was the Jerusalem artichoke, as it looks like a disfigured potato or oddly colored ginger root. This delicate root makes a subtlety delicious soup; and requires a labor of love to do so. Cleaning them is a job, and the taste is worth it, even simply cut and sautéed for a side dish they are bites of heaven.
Photo of Jerusalem artichokes
My favorite recipe of all is for raw artichoke salad. It is worth all the time necessary to prepare and can be served as the main dish, a starter or a side, depending upon the time of day, your level of hunger, and personal taste. As indicated in the recipe, my favorite is as the main dish atop a pile of fresh rucola (arugula) with fresh crusty bread to accompany.
However you prepare, or order off the menu, enjoy nature’s detoxifier the artichoke as often as you wish in spring. Other super spring vegetables: rucola (arugula), asparagus, beets, carrots, mints, peas, strawberries, spring onions, radishes (one of my personal favorites) all await their chance to serve you towards a lighter, healthier body as spring blossoms around us.