Discovering local foods is one of the joys of traveling. Just ask Anthony Bourdain. He makes his living bringing the joys of local foods to viewers from around the world in his program “Parts Unknown.”
Well, I didn’t check in with Tony but I did put a visit to the Mercato Trionfale, a subterranean fresh market in Rome, to the top of my “must do” places to visit on a recent trip to Italy. And I am glad I did because it’s artichoke season in Italy. These wonderful vegetables can be found on menus, in markets and gardens.
Now, the outside of the market doesn’t look all that appealing but that view quickly changes when you enter. Stall after stall is filled with colorful fruits and vegetables and our visit at 9 in the morning found the market abuzz with shoppers.
But it was the artichokes, or carciofo in Italian, that really drew my interest. Canned, steamed, marinated, fried or fresh, I have always enjoyed artichokes but I’ve never seen them in the market or grocery store in St. Louis unless they are in a can or jar, no doubt because our climate is not ideal for growing this Mediterranean native. And I was surprised to see that they were purple, as I the only fresh artichokes I have every seen were green.
My research tells me that Italy, Spain and France are the top artichoke producing countries and here in the U.S., California is king for producing this perennial. In some areas, artichokes are a biennial. One plant can produce up to 20 artichokes per year.
It’s one thing to eat them and then to see them in the market, but I had the full experience of seeing them on the plant. On a walk around the neighborhood where I stayed, I spied a garden in the back of the apartment next door. And yes, there were artichokes growing! You can see looking at the plant that it is a thistle.
On the plane to Rome, I sat by a young woman who had lived in Italy for a six months and she told me it was the tail end of artichoke season and truffle season and to be sure and not miss these local delicacies. I’m glad to have seen and enjoyed them.