The botanical name of the artichoke is Cynara scolimus. It comes from the Ancient Greek myth in which Zeus fell in love with a girl of surpassing beauty with auburn hair. Her name was Cynara and she rejected him. To punish her, Zeus turned her into an artichoke.
This vegetable was greatly appreciated by the Greeks and Romans, who considered it a delicacy.
It was introduced into France by Catherine de Médicis, who was very fond of them. They later became very popular in Spain. They subsequently conquered America, having been introduced to Louisiana by the French and to California by the Spanish.
Artichokes need heat to grow. 90% of the world’s production of artichokes comes from Mediterranean countries. The rest comes from Argentina, California, New Zealand, Chile, Venezuela, and Peru.
A good artichoke is heavy and firm. Its leaves are unblemished and tightly closed. If they are open, the artichoke is over-ripe and contains too much choke.
The leaves and stalk should be brittle. The base should be green: this is a sign of freshness.
Always choose young artichokes that are tender and from the first shoots.
Fresh artichokes can be found in markets.
Preserved: artichoke hearts in oil, sometimes aromatized, artichoke bottoms in brine.
Frozen: whole, halved, or quartered hearts; whole bottoms.
Raw when young and small: in flakes with the heart and stalk peeled, seasoned with salt and pepper, and olive oil.
Cooked and served cold with vinaigrette.
Stuffed with meat, cooked in oil, fried (carciofi alla giudia), au gratin, pureed, in soup (for the larger ones), or as fries.
Store in the refrigerator or cool room, without washing and away from light.
Artichokes oxidize very quickly when trimming. They should be kept in a water bath with added ascorbic acid (1 g/liter) after turning.
Like all vegetables, artichokes have few calories. They are high in fiber and contain large amounts of antioxidants, including tannins that give a bitter taste when raw.
Part of their carbohydrate content is made up of non-digestible inulin, similar to prebiotics. These are two reasons for their particular protective effect.
There are two main types of artichoke, distinguished by their round or conical shape, but curiously called "white" or "purple", despite being green.
There are many different varieties within these categories.
France: Camus de Bretagne. The largest: 300–500 g (May to November). Vert de Laon, Vert d'Italie or Tête de chat and Castel are similar to Camus. Blanc Hyérois (May to June). Macau (grown in the Gironde region, starting September).
Spain: Blanca de España (January-April), Blanca de Tudela PGI (spring and fall).
. Sakis from Turkey
France: Violet de Provence, which when small (less than 100 g) is called the bouquet or poivrade artichoke (spring and fall).
Italy: Violetto di Venezia, Violetto di Toscana, carciofo romanesco, Violetto Romagna di Chioggia, and Violetto di Catania are among the most commonly grown varieties.
The spiny artichoke is tapered, with each leaf ending in a thorn, hence the name. It is produced in spring and summer in the regions of Nice, Genoa, Sardinia, and Sicily.