In 77 A.D., the Roman naturalist Pliny called the artichoke "one of earth's monstrosities." This comment had little effect on his countrymen, as the artichoke, originally developed in Sicily, may well be the patron vegetable of Rome. Come springtime, especially in March, this bulbous, oddly beautiful vegetable appears everywhere in the ancient city. In Rome and other Italian cities, the smell of artichokes sautéing in hot olive oil and garlic pervades the market streets. These carciofo all Guidia, or Jewish-style artichokes, make for perfectly messy and delicious street food.
Absolutely unique in appearance, with its spade-shaped head of tough green leaves, the artichoke is a member of the thistle family-just like the cardoon. Don't be intimidated by its shape, artichoke are simple to prepare and delicious in both flavor and texture. Artichokes hearts have a certain smooth meatiness, which make them ideal for grilling. The outer leaves of an artichoke are actually indigestible, but the more tender of these outer leaves can be steamed, drizzled with a little extra-virgin olive oil and lemon, and sucked for flavor.
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