They call it the “death of an artichoke.” That’s how it translates. But death is a good thing here in Sicily … especially if you lust after artichokes. Death—in this case—means perfection, and the most perfect way to prepare an artichoke is to roast it over hot coals. Fire it up like an unrepentant sinner.
Artichokes can be scary and intimidating for those who aren’t used to them. I am accustomed to suspicious looks when I place an artichoke in front of the uninitiated. The spikes are too pointy, they say, showing me a bead of blood on a pricked finger. Eating artichokes seems too complicated, they whine.
“Don’t be scared,” I say. “Artichoke is just a name; it won’t actually choke you.”
They never believe me—until they try one. And after many years of being on an artichoke mission, I know that if I can get someone down to the artichoke’s heart, I’ve made an artichoke lover for life.
In Sicily, there’s no need for cajoling or zealotry. These people love artichokes as much as I do. They nod approvingly when I talk about how much I love them. They point to their cheeks, smile and wiggle their fingers—the non-verbal signal for “tasty”—when I bring up artichokes in conversation. They buy them by the case or bunch. They have taught me much about my favorite food.
For example, artichokes are a thistle! The leaves are scientifically classified as scales, like a lizard. You can eat almost every part of the artichoke, except for the hairy bits of older artichokes. Young artichokes can be eaten in their entirety. Artichoke season roughly runs from November to April; I was warned when I arrived to not let my lust get the best of me as early artichokes are imported or pumped full of steroids.
I have learned to stuff artichokes with bread crumbs and boil them on the stovetop. I’ve learned how to “cook” a raw artichoke heart in fresh lemon. But my favorite is the roasting of the artichoke—an occasion that sets the tasty fingers to wiggling like crazy.
We start with fresh artichokes, prying them open with our fingers, and sprinkling salt inside. We chop up some garlic and parsley and stuff them into the top and between the leaves. Douse with a hearty slog of olive oil and stand upright into some hot charcoal for 35–45 minutes, dousing with oil periodically. Peel off the burned leaves and eat!
If this is death, kill me now.