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We make it a habit to not waste food in our home. We freeze leftovers or eat them within two days time. Hardened bread becomes bruschetta and breadcrumbs, an ingredient for meatballs and panzanella salad. The stalks and leaves of red beets are cleaned one hundred times, sautéed with EVOO and garlic. Discard from our juicer becomes cookies and cakes. During lockdown, we have searched for ways to make our food go further and to boost our immune systems. Enter the artichoke tea infusion.
Although many fawn over carbonara, pizza and gelato, there are few other vegetables that are more sought-after in the Eternal City and my kitchen than the Roman artichoke.
Carciofo, the large flower bud of the thistle Cynara scolymus, is native to the Mediterranean region. It was likely developed from the cardoon. In Rome, artichokes are a delicacy. Most probably referring to the artichoke, Pliny the Elder abashedly said “thus we turn into a corrupt feast the earth’s monstrosities, those which even the animals instinctively avoid” in Book 19. Earth’s monstrosities or not, I’ll eat them every day when they are in season.
Artichoke season in Rome starts around November when the small violet beauties appear in food markets. The edible flowers come in numerous varieties, mainly divided between ones with spines and ones without. The most common is the spinoso from Palermo, Sardegna or Liguria, the violetto from Tuscany and the Romano or mammola from Lazio. I croon for the mammole goddesses that come into season in February. The fat plump ones showed up right around when lockdown in Rome began. They immediately became a part of my Covid-19 Lockdown food shopping list.
The fleshy part of the leaves (bracts) and the heart are delicate and savory. From frittatas and torte rustiche (savory pies) to pasta sauces and al funghetto, Italian cooks put them to work. I’ve cooked my weight in carciofi alla romana this season. It is my favorite way to prepare and eat them. The tough outer leaves are discarded. The remaining tender artichokes are stuffed with chopped garlic and mentuccia before they are slowly cooked, stalks upwards, in olive oil and water until a fork runs through the base with ease. I make a meal out of them, BUT I do find myself staring at those beautiful tough discarded leaves.
It breaks my heart to throw them away. They can become compost. Currently composting isn’t a part of my apartment dwelling city life. With a bit of research, I happened upon a TV episode touting the health benefits of artichokes and the ease with which an infusion can be made.
Thus the experiments began in my kitchen. The timing is perfect as springtime is the ideal time to detox and reinvigorate our immune and other systems. Artichoke tea has a grassy, vegetal flavor. I drink one glass in the morning and one in the evening on an empty stomach for one to two months.
Claimed health benefits include:
- It is rich in folate, vitamins A, B1 and C, and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, iron, potassium and zinc.
- Stimulates the liver function and the production of bile helping with liver insufficiency.
- Works as a diuretic, helping to rid the body of excess body fat and prevent water retention.
- May aid in reducing cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
- Leaves are rich in antioxidants and chock-full of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that dissolves in water. Antioxidants can protect your body from damage from environmental toxins and free radicals which may contribute to heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants may also help to delay the effects of these illnesses.
Artichoke leaf tea can be purchased in health food stores or online in tea bags or loose-leaf. I love the natural bitterness of artichoke leaf tea. For a sweet variation, add some honey or other sugar to temper the bitter notes.
Tisana al carciofo (artichoke tea infusion)
- Artichokes leaves ONLY for me as I love bitter tastes
- Artichoke leaves and fennel. Fennel aids in digestion.
- Artichoke leaves and a piece of ginger. Add fresh mint leaves and a touch of honey.
Bring approximately 1 liter/4 cups of water to a boil. Close the flame. Add 50 grams/2 ounces of discarded artichoke leaves to the water and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Filter and set aside. Iced artichoke tea with fresh mint is my preferred way to drink it. I keep a bottle chilled in our fridge. Enjoy!
Interested in cooking artichokes 3 ways? Email us at email@example.com to reserve your space for our May 4 live interactive artichoke lesson at 4:00 pm. EST.