Question: When traveling in Italy, I love to eat those small, succulent artichokes served in restaurants. You eat the whole thing, stem and all. Are they a different species than the large ones we have in the U.S., and are they available here? How would I prepare them?
Those little eat-the-whole-thing artichokes with tender leaves and no choke are fabulous. Whenever I've tried to track them down in Italy I have always been told conflicting stories: They're a different kind of artichoke and specially bred, or they are tiny chokes that grow as a side shoot of the artichoke plant.
Although so-called "baby" artichokes are occasionally available here in specialty markets, they often differ from the ones in Italy in that they have chokes and their outer leaves are not tender. Certainly you can use these, just strip away the outer layer of coarse leaves, halve each artichoke, scoop out the choke and thinly slice raw for salads or cook them.
Check out Mediterranean and Italian markets, fancy food stores and farmers markets and you might get lucky. Artichokes are spring and winter vegetables (two crops come from California). If you're a gardener, there are types you can grow to be eaten raw -- two varieties are the Purple Sicilian and Purple de Jesi.
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