How can a heart-shaped vegetable not be a delicacy? For centuries, artichoke has been one of the most appreciated products in this country, which knows how to judge the quality of what it eats. Its dietary and gastronomic assets have rightly made it an essential winter season ingredient. A lovely product.
Venerated since ancient times, the product originates from Southern Europe and North Africa. Pure Mediterranean. According to those who know, it comes from the kinara, a thistle widely used in Greek and Roman cuisine. With a certain malevolence, we could find the reason for this popularity among the ancient, morally-relaxed Hellenes in the aphrodisiac powers attributed to it. The name Kinara comes precisely from a girl seduced by Zeus and later transformed into artichoke.
It was the Arabs, during the violent Middle Ages, who extended its cultivation throughout the European continent in the midst of conquests and incursions. The sword and the hoe travelled hand in hand. Applied to agrarian development, it improved in its varieties and gastronomic qualities. And hence its name. Artichoke derives from an Arabic term meaning “earthen reeds”, in reference to its hypnotic leaves.
When the shroud of winter falls on the ground, it is time to lay hands on the artichoke. A generous compensation, of course. To check its freshness, tradition tells us to press the artichoke close to the ear. If you hear a crunch, it is still fresh and everything is joy in the kitchen. If the leaves are soft at the base or open easily and have brown parts, it is a sign that their freshness has been spoiled.
If eaten raw, in a salad, the artichoke simply requires a simple dressing with good olive oil and lemon. They are ideal baked and grilled, but we must not be so foolish as to cut the tips of the leaves, as these preserve the moisture of the artichoke. Another formula that guarantees the purity of its flavour is steaming them so as to maintain its vitamins and mineral salts intact. Its meat, especially the tenderest part of the heart, is crunchy (when roasted), succulent, juicy and fine. The combination of flavours it offers is surprising. Slightly bitter at first and with a sweet touch at the end, like the best things in life.
Artichokes have a powerful diuretic effect and helps keep uric acid and cholesterol, those contemporary malefactors, at bay. If gluttony is a sin, artichoke is a welcome penance.
Prophet in his land
By tradition and common sense, Spaniards have always appreciated this product as it deserves. Quality and variety recommend making room for it in the pantry and in cookbooks that have known how to express its best qualities. Blanca de Tudela, Madrileña, Romanesco, Californiana… There is no bad artichoke. In the meantime, a variety has become settled in excellence: the Benicarló Artichoke. The famous carxofa, at first, has a flat and compact shape and a peculiar dimple and is marketed properly identified by the seal of the regulating council.
The cuisine of the Parador de Benicarló pays a well-deserved tribute to the artichoke. Aquilino Cercós, a chef with the soul of an artisan, strives to surprise a clientele that has never raised a single objection to his dishes. The Benicarló artichoke is the best excuse for a few festive days that extend from January to March, the carxofa festival, where popular tastings of all kinds are prepared. Until 15 March, the Parador de Benicarló joins in with a gastronomic plan, which includes three different menus, and the opening of a new rice/grill area.