A is for…

Artichokes and Asparagus

 

Two remarkable vegetables, they may strike fear into the heart of an inexperienced chef but they offer such a vast array of health benefits that they certainly deserve their time in the limelight.

The artichoke, while generally considered a vegetable, is actually part of the thistle family and is the unopened bud of the plant’s large purple flower. With over 50 varieties grown worldwide, the Green Globe is the most predominant. Native to the Mediterranean, the artichoke thrives in a warm climate and is cultivated in many countries including Italy, Spain, France and the United States.

Artichoke hearts, the most commonly used section, are baby artichokes with tender leaves, and are picked before the prickly inner ‘choke’ has developed.   A fully matured artichoke will need to have the sharp points cut off the leaves, then it can then be steamed, grilled, boiled or roasted, and enjoyed with dip, added to pizza, or combined with other vegetables.  Served with a selection of appetizers, the artichoke leaves can be pulled off one by one, making them a popular ingredient in share platters.

Not your average vegetable, artichokes also have a colourful connection to the Mafia.  In 1935 in New York City, the Mafia successfully monopolised the importing of artichokes into New York, increasing the price by over 26 per cent.  Infuriated, the then-mayor, La Guardia, promptly declared the trade and possession of baby artichokes illegal.  However, in just three days, he was forced to withdraw this ruling due to the public outcry and strong demand for these delicacies by the hosts of Italian immigrants within the city.

A is also for asparagus, and this vegetable is actually a type of grass, and one of the fastest-growing species in the world.  Containing no fat or cholesterol, and full of phytonutrients, asparagus is the perfect food for any diet.  It is also known to help maintain blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, and it is good for the heart.

Asparagus has been around for millennia with early references found in Roman writings dating back to 160 B.C.  Originally grown for its medicinal purposes, primarily as a diuretic, it is only in the past few decades that it has become a popular vegetable in supermarket shelves.

Although we are all familiar with the bright green spears, it’s not unusual to also see white asparagus in the grocery store. This variety, known as ‘white gold’, comes from the same plant as its green cousins, but is cultivated carefully to maintain its pure whiteness. Like all plants, asparagus is coloured from sunlight; when the plant breaks through the ground into the sunlight, it turns green thanks to photosynthesis.  To cultivate white asparagus, dirt is piled around the young plant, preventing the sunlight from turning it green. Once the tip breaks through the surface, the stalk is cut with a special knife beneath the ground.

Not only do both these unusual vegetables lead the charge alphabetically, they are also the only perennial vegetables which sprout and grow again and again each year.

Artichokes and Asparagus. . . amazing, appetizing and now appealing!

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