Blog of the Week - The Artichoke blog
Words by Pat Eggleton
We have a food blog that is devoted to one ingredient this week. Pat interviewed Michael of The Artichoke Blog.
Michael, can you tell us where you are from?
I was born in Calabria, Italy, raised in Sydney with pretty strong Italian values at home and exposed to lots of other cultures outside of home.
What brought you to Italy?
Being an art handler I went to work at the Venice Biennale in 2005. That kicked off a five-year stay in Italy.
Can you tell us a little about where you live?
Torino, up until a few months ago: Slowfood Central, arguably culinary capital of Italy, steeped in tradition with a very refined palate for great quality produce, cuisine and of course outstanding wines nearby. Torino boasts Porta Palazzo markets, the largest outdoor produce markets in Europe, so we were pretty lucky to have that around the corner.
I lived in Torino for two and half years with my wife Alice. I moved back to Sydney, Australia recently where the artichoke season is peaking and I am beginning a venture into the restaurant business. I really miss Porta Palazzo more than anything.
Are you a cook by profession?
In a previous life I studied commercial cookery while at hospitality college. I found cooking work stressful because I didn't have the organisational skills that a good cook needs. That kind of changed when I went to Europe twenty years ago. I cooked in France for some time and quite enjoyed it but steered away from cooking commercially if at all possible. While in Italy I got to cook in restaurants for Italians. They are probably the most discerning of customers who are not shy about criticising your work.
How did you first become interested in artichokes?
Mum’s stuffed artichoke is probably the dish that I loved the most and I hadn't had them for ages so when I went to Venice where artichokes were everywhere, I started to develop this obsession.
Why did you decide to devote a blog to the subject?
I've always regarded the blog as a stepping stone. Like everyone else I want to produce a book. Having looked around for a book on artichokes I found nothing remotely interesting. It’s now my mission to publish a beautiful book completely devoted to them. Everyone I know in publishing advised me that a blog was definitely the most common way to generate interest while I hone in on the book project.
Do you travel around Italy in search of different varieties?
I have done that. When it comes down to it, getting fixated on varieties is almost another discipline. Every place you go will claim its artichoke is unique and they are all different but I am more interested in the regional recipes when travelling than I am in any botanical perspective. Places, tales and recipes are really my focus.
Where do you find the recipes?
Torino is great because you always meet people from other parts of Italy. I loiter around artichoke stands at the markets and ask shoppers (especially older folk) how they prepare them.
You can do lots of regional research just by meeting people, finding out where they're from and asking what the most traditional artichoke dishes from their region are. What did they remember growing up with? If you express some interest in something that people hold dear to them they will be really generous with information that might be everyday to them but new and fresh to you. From there I scour the web and compare notes with anecdotes.
Do you test the recipes personally and who gets to taste them?
I always test recipes. It's the most fun bit of the whole process. Usually it's my wife on the frontline of the tasting but I often try to get people over for some artichoke feasting. They’re always lots of fun.
Do you have a favourite variety and a favourite recipe?
I love the rounder Romanesco variety. Stuff them with pretty much anything and I'll be there.
I always make a terrible mess when preparing artichokes and end up with nothing. Do you have any tips on preparing them?
Firstly don't be scared of them. Making a mess is mandatory. Buy a few and have a look at just how they come apart. Once you know that you'll know what you’re working with. I have some pretty thorough step by step explanations on cleaning and preparing artichokes on the blog.
Finally, can you recommend a blog post especially for Italy Magazine readers?
I really think it’s best to start on the front page and scroll down until you see something that you really like to read more about.
I’m sure our readers will do just that. Thank you for talking to Italy Magazine.