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Five ways to use artichokes, from tea to tapenade

Pickled, raw or fried, this delicious vegetable is suprisingly versatile.

Raw artichokes on a wooden cutting board, with a bowl and some lemon slices.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Filippo La Gattuta
Published 9 Apr 2022, 06:08 BST, Updated 12 Apr 2022, 13:28 BST

First cultivated in Naples in the 15th century, artichokes are a true Italian staple. They’re particularly popular in Rome, where they’re simply deep-fried and served as a starter in osterias. And, as a Venetian, they’ve always been a key ingredient for me, too.

Preparing them is one of the most technical and intimidating parts of cooking them. During my internship years, the chef would bring me about 14kg a day, which was a challenge; I used — and still use — a small, sharp paring knife to peel the stem and take off the outer leaves until only the tender leaves remained. To test you’ve done this correctly, once the first set of leaves has been removed, bite the next leaf — if it’s tender, you’ve peeled enough. The most important thing is to remove the ‘barba’ (the ‘choke’ in English, the immature leaves at the centre), and once the artichoke is prepped, it needs to be placed in lemon water to prevent discolouration. If this all seems too challenging, try to find smaller artichokes as they usually don’t have the choke inside. 

My favourite variety is the romanesco, the most commonly used in Italian recipes. It’s not only the biggest, but also the most tender once cooked. One of the best ways of preparing it is by lightly cooking it, face-down, in wine, herbs, oil and whole garlic cloves. Cooked this way, the vegetable can be eaten hot or cold, simply with aioli or garlic butter. It makes a wonderful starter to share, as everyone comes together to peel the leaves off. Filippo La Gattuta is executive chef at Big Mamma Group, which operates Ave Mario, Circolo Popolare and Gloria Trattoria in London, plus others elsewhere in Europe.

1. Fried
Deep-fry a prepared artichoke for five mins in oil at 120C. Once cooled, open it like a flower. Then fry for another four mins at 180C, so the leaves are crunchy.

2. Tapenade
The best artichoke for this is the mammola, which has the biggest heart. Using the steamed heart, blend it with a little of the steaming liquid and serve with focaccia 
or grissini. 

3. Raw
Prepare the artichoke and toss in lemon water. Slice very finely then dress with herbs and olive oil. Use the smallest artichoke possible so you don’t need to strip many leaves. 

4. Tea
For this, use the leaves and stem. Dehydrate in the oven then infuse in hot water. This is traditional for grandmothers to offer after a big lunch as it’s said to aid digestion.

5. Pickled
Lightly cook the artichoke in wine and herbs, then place in sterilised jars. Top with hot vinegar infused with peppercorns and bay and leave for a day or two to pickle. 

Published in Issue 15 (spring 2022) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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