To view a slide show of images of Greek artichokes and how to prepare them, click here. To try recipes mentioned in this story, click here for braised veal with artichokes, here for braised monkfish with artichokes, and here for artichokes marinated in wine, olive oil, lemon, and garlic.
Besides supplying us with their delicious edible buds, artichokes, if left to blossom, surprise you with their huge, furry, stunningly purple flowers. First cousins to the ubiquitous Mediterranean thistle, they look like medieval chevaliers, wrapped in impenetrable green armor. Some artichokes have large spikes on the pointed edges of their leaves, but their sensitive hearts remain tender and vulnerable, juicy and crunchy. They truly embody the essence of the Mediterranean: sentimental and sensual but at the same time hardy and a model of perseverance. They totally dry out in the summer, only to bud miraculously from the earth with the very first rains, their lush leaves emerging like artesian wells from the soil.
They grow very easily, or so you might be told. Artichokes don't need much water, Greeks will tell you, nor do they require extra care: they simply take root, never to leave your garden. Unfortunately, not in our garden! We have been trying to grow them for years ...
From my childhood, I remember the stubborn artichokes that one spring morning pierced the porch floor of the house I grew up in Patissia, on the outskirts of Athens. Our home was built on my grandfather's garden and was surrounded by verandas with thick concrete foundations that apparently proved to be no match for the old, sprouting artichokes. I told Costas, my husband, this story the first year we moved to Kea, as we were trying to decide which plants to grow in our stony island garden. I was certain artichokes would be an unqualified success.
Following the advice of Angelos, who owns the nursery, we planted a few young artichokes at the end of our first winter on the island. Most of them died slowly before spring, but a couple did grow a bit, giving us two slim artichokes. That was it; by summer they disappeared forever. We tried once more the following year, with similar results. Then we gave up.