Piemontese Perspective on Artichokes
Teaching English in Piemonte to Italian students often results in loads of laughter. This recently happened when I was trying to describe an artichoke without saying “carciofi” in Italian. After mimes and descriptions I finally gave up and said, “ARTICHOKE!”
I couldn’t believe the chuckles I got after pronouncing this word. They quickly explained that this English name was almost identical to the Piedmontese dialect “articiòch”! Normally Piedmontese sounds like it is from a different planet but this strange similarity made both our lives much easier.
This prompts me to talk about how the Piedmontese eat their artichokes. First of all, they tend to eat Liguria’s variety which are longer, skinnier and spikier compared to the Roman and Californian ones to which I am most familiar.
Back in the States, the most common ways of eating them were boiled and dipped in mayonnaise, or grilled, if we were lucky. I’ll never forget the first time I was at my Italian in-laws house and they just handed me a raw artichoke and placed a bowl of olive oil in front of me. This is when you just have to observe and imitate. I curiously watched the whole family start whittling away at theirs and furiously dipping the leaves in oil and salt. I was hesitant but wanted to fit in and dipped right in!This common Italian way of eating vegetables is called “pinzimonio”. What a surprise to taste how tender, crisp and sweet the artichokes were! From that moment on, I have been eating my artichokes RAW!
Eating them raw in “pinzimonio” is the most basic way, however it takes a lot of work to clean them. You must be sure to rinse the artichoke and take off all the tough outer leaves. The hardest part is not getting poked by the nasty thistles on the stem! Then you cut two thirds of the cleaned artichoke therefore eliminating all the spiky tips. From there, all you have to do is cut the choke in quarters, take out the fuzz in the middle, slice thinly and place in lemon water to keep them from turning black. Since they never waste anything here in Italy, it is useful to know that you can strip off the hard outer layer of the stem and slice it up for some Artichoke Risotto.
In fact, my favorite way to eat them raw is to make a quick and effortless salad. Simply clean and slice the artichokes very thinly, shave some grana cheese over them and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. If you want to dazzle it up a bit you can add cherry tomatoes, white onions and olives.
“Eating an artichoke is like getting to know someone really well.” – Willi Hastings