Thursday, June 2, 2016

Artichoked up about leaving Tuscany

My mom likes to change things up when it comes to cooking. When she tries something new and interesting, she will come home and try to recreate it. Because I’m far bolder than my sisters when it comes to food and will consume anything edible, I usually play the role of guinea pig. A couple of weeks before the trip, my mom came home, excited to show us her latest experiment. Before then, I hadn’t really messed with artichokes. I wasn’t entirely sure how to eat them, and apart from watching my babysitter cook them one night for dinner for her husband, I really had no idea how to prepare them. I always assumed that the heart was the only edible part of the plant and even then, I didn’t know what the heart looked or tasted like.
 This all changed the night my mom decided to make it our pre-dinner appetizer. Skeptically, I followed her instructions of picking off one of the leaves, dipping it in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and other assorted spices, and drawing the base of the leaf through my teeth to scrape off the tender, edible part. While my other family members didn’t seem to be as enthusiastic about the experience, I loved it. The process was enjoyable, but the taste, even more so. 
As we have travelled throughout the Tuscan countryside, we have come across several artichoke gardens. I was surprised to see how the plants grew and it was really cool to learn about them now that I have had more experience dealing with them. As we have discussed them in class, I have learned several interesting things. The “leaves” are called bracts and are actually petals, not leaves. The base at which they come together is the heart. Artichokes are thought to have originated in northern Africa and since then have migrated to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, which makes the region in which we are studying to be a perfect place to observe and learn about them. They can be grown from seed or by vegetative means through cuttings. They require a good amount of watering to grow well. Unfortunately, they aren’t very successful in Texas which means I can’t grow them in my backyard (although I can grow them when I eventually move to Italy…which is more than likely going to happen). 
Deepening my newfound love for artichokes, we were served pasta last night with artichoke hearts that gave me an out of body experience. After nearly two weeks of being here, I have very quickly realized that Italians know how to do food so much better than Americans. I’ve already made plans to get a copy of the recipe before I leave. Next time, I’ll be the one experimenting with food and my mom will get to be the guinea pig! 

Quincy Barton

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