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Artichokes


Even if this vegetable is not of Tuscan origin (in fact it is not mentioned in the antique texts on cooking of the 1300’s) it is however certain that in the second half of 1400’s the cultivation of artichokes was already spread throughout the Tuscan territory. The seeds were taken from the Campania where, thanks to the mild climate, were cultivated from time immemorial under the Greek name of Cynara, (but it seems that the true origin of this vegetable is to be found in Ethiopia). This name, abandoned in more recent times with us in favour of that of Kharshuf, which connects the name of “cynar”, a liqueur made from artichokes much used as a digestive.
But in Tuscany that artichoke found a great ally in olive oil. An oil that when it has just been squeezed, green and peppery, the taste to be remembered and it is this taste that makes the artichoke “in pinzimonio” (olive oil with pepper and salt) a food of great value. Many vegetables are eaten raw in Tuscany, peeled and dipped in oil and salt, but certainly the artichoke is that most widely used and appreciated more than for its good flavour but because in this way it preserves that “cineraria”, the principle activity that causes a light diuretic and degistive action.
The two principle qualities of the artichokes are its flavoursome “violet” and the large Empolian “mamme” from which is made the already famous dish «risotto ai carciofi », «carciofi in tegame» and the exquisite «carciofi fritti»; but there is also in the strictly local, antique dishes the «garmugia lucchese» a typical soup of this place that is made in the spring. The origins of the name “garmugia” unknown or uncertain even if it is attempted (but convinces few) a connection with bean sprouts, which is bean sprouts used with fresh vegetables. The preparation mostly used allows for the use of other vegetables and not only artichokes, such as peas, runner beans, spring onions and asparagus cooked in broth with minced meat and bacon (but there also exists a version without meat, only vegetables and with the use of grated parmesan). It is served with toast (crostini) or cubed.
To accompany the starters the artichokes are sliced (especially those small throw away pieces) and are preserved in oil after begin cooked in white wine and white vinegar with bay leaves, cloves, coarse salt and peppercorns.
Covering them completely in oil and it is adviseable to sprinkle over some calamint that has the power to sharpen the particular taste.

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