You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

sabato 20 marzo 2010

Consider the Artichoke

“Artichokes … are just plain annoying … After all the trouble you go to, you get as much actual “food” out of eating an artichoke as you would from licking thirty or forty postage stamps. Have the shrimp cocktail instead.” So said Miss Piggy.[1] Artichokes provide an equal source of amusement for the terrifically funny punsters who note at[2] : “Artichoke is the extremely dangerous physical condition of museum induced asphyxiation.”

We should praise that forward-thinking North African (for this is where the artichoke originates, or maybe it doesn’t: some think a Sicilian first braved this spiny creation) for thinking to eat this thistle (we should also wonder what led him or her to do so).[3] The artichoke’s first documented mention in the Western world occurs in Florence, in 1466, when it made its way from Naples.[4] Supposedly Filippo Strozzi, card-carrying member of the Florentine upper crust, brought it home from Naples, where he was busy supervising the machinations of his family’s bank.[5]

(Why eat thistles, which is what we eat when we eat an artichoke? Who knows. Aesop’s ass did it.[6] If you don’t know how to, check this out:

At any rate, artichokes were all the rage in Florence; we have letters from 16th century Medici thanking various cronies for sending them from far away: in 1548, Cosimo I thanks his agent in Genoa on behalf of his wife Eleonora di Toledo, who quite liked artichokes from those parts, and probably wanted more; evidently, this yen continued, as we have another letter from 1551 alluding to her great pleasure in this Genoese foodstuff. Love for this thistle ran in the family, as granddaughter Marie, married to Henry IV of France, wrote to thank her father for a gift of artichokes and duck (presumably and hopefully not to be had together in the same dish).[7]

Lulu, who embodies “omnivore,” eagerly lapped up the artichoke drippings falling from the cutting board. A quick google survey reveals that people eat artichokes because they are high in fiber and low in calories. Hm. What say you, Miss Piggy?

Risotto ai carciofi/Artichoke risotto

4 globe artichokes
Juice from one lemon
1 T. unsalted butter
1 T. extravirgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 c. white wine
3-4 c. vegetable stock or mushroom stock
3/4 c. Arborio rice
Juice from one lemon, again
2 T. coriander seeds
½ c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
½ c. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Fill a bowl with water, juice the lemon, add to the bowl, and throw in the two lemon halves for good measure (this nominally ensures that they artichokes don’t blacken, but only nominally). Trim the artichokes by cutting off the stalk, then pull off the particularly spiny leaves which are, apparently, called bracts. Take a good, well-sharpened knife and cut away the top half, more or less, of the artichoke. (Throw that part in your compost pile.) Remove the leaves until you get to the yellow, slightly striated-with-purple part. Quarter the artichokes and, using a teaspoon, remove the hairy choke. Immediately put the denuded artichoke into the lemon juice water, and continue with the remaining artichokes.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter with the olive oil over a low-medium flame. Add the onion and let cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden. In the meantime, put the vegetable broth into a saucepan, and bring to a nice, steady heat.

Drain the artichokes, and make the quarters eighths (i.e., chop them in half). Add them to the onions, and stir for a few minutes, then add the rice. Stir frequently, for a minute or two, to coat them with the oil/butter. Splash in the wine, stirring continuously. Once it’s evaporated, ladle some of the vegetable broth, and stir occasionally. Continue this procedure until the risotto is done (about 18-20 minutes).

In the meantime, while you are desultorily stirring your risotto, take the two tablespoons of coriander seeds, place them in a small saucepan, and toast ‘til fragrant (this happens in less than a minute). Immediately remove them from the flame, and mortar and pestle them (or whizz them in a spice or coffee blender … but if you do that, make sure that you don’t whiz them into nothingness; they should be slightly chunky). Reserve.

Just before you think the risotto’s ready, toss in the Pecorino Romano cheese (which you've already grated), grind some black pepper and a pinch of sea salt, and mix it all up. After a minute or so, remove from the heat, and fold in the toasted ground coriander seeds and the juice from that second lemon. Scatter the chopped parsley on top, and eat immediately, with extra Pecorino-Romano cheese for grating waiting on the table.

Serves two, more than generously, and gives at least a soupcon to each Stooge.

[1] She never tried cardoons, notes the Italian Scallion.
[2] The Italian Scallion wonders if this idea extends to art history classes and lectures?
[3] Alan Davidson remarks that there’s some uncertainty about its origins, as some believe in the School of Sicily. He offers words of support to folk such as Miss Piggy:”The eater must be equipped with front teeth and patience.” See his artichoke entry in the Oxford Companion to Food, New York, 1999.
[4] See above.
[5] What’s interesting is that Florence was on the brink of civil war in that very same year. Luca Pitti challenged Piero di Cosimo il Vecchio for supremacy of the city; a peace deal was brokered by offering up Francesca Pitti, Luca’s daughter, as matrimonial bounty/booty to a Medici insider (i.e., Piero’s brother-in-law Giovanni Tornabuoni): imagine her walking down the aisle (they didn’t, then, but still) with a bouquet of artichokes). For a candid and concise account of this event, please see John M. Najemy’s History of Florence (London, 2006), pp. 298-.307
[6] Hopefully, s/he ate a raw artichoke (eminently pleasurable) as opposed to a raw cardoon(eminently not). The ass’s story may be found at
[7] For more details, go to

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