Hearts and artichokes

Hearts and artichokes

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Hearts and artichokes I did not expect much. It was like any other Sunday morning. 

I was happy to have persuaded my daughter to go to the corner store to pick up a few things for breakfast. Though she was reluctant as ever, she did not have the guts to say no and silently obeyed. It was Mother’s Day after all! 

She has never been very fast. She always moved slowly, in an almost noble, slightly aloof way. She seemed to be floating in another world, quite distracted from ours. She never showed her emotions; though she was sensitive, compassionate and quick-witted, it was hard to tell this from outside. She was my cool and distant girl. 

It took some time for her to come back. I was just wondering how slow could she be when the doorbell rang. There she was, suddenly smiling shyly, as if she was not so sure of herself. Her two arms were wrapped around the biggest bouquet I’ve ever seen. My heart stopped. Here was my mother’s day gift. I was choked up, or better to say arti-choked… as it was a bouquet of artichokes. 

Here is what happened: She wanted to buy me something but did not feel like going for the limp ordinary flowers in the supermarket or any other commercial gift. Hopeless, she gave up. But when walking back home from the store, she came across a street vendor selling artichokes. She bargained to have as many artichokes she could buy with all of her pocket money. She knew I adored artichokes. Needless to say it was the prettiest bouquet and best gift I ever received.

My fondness for artichokes is legendary. Last month when I was in Catania, the most exciting experience for me was the roasted artichokes in the La Pescheria market. Sicily has many artichoke festivals, I hope to go to one in the future, but since last year we have our own artichoke festival in Urla, İzmir. In its second year, the International Artichoke Festival of Urla hosts workshops, ateliers, tastings, demos from international and local chefs, talks, panels, a vast selection of exhibitions, street stalls, dance, music and, of course, a parade. It is a festival that celebrates the glorious globe in the best possible way, and another good thing about the Urla festival is that every event is open to the public for free. It generates the local economy truly for the benefit of the producers. Last year, thousands of artichokes were sold and I was afraid there would be no artichokes left for the rest of the season. 

This year there was something extra in the festival: Artichoke and wine went hand in hand. There is this general belief that artichokes and wine do not go together. Artichoke contains cynarine, which affects taste buds. After a bite of artichoke, if you sip water it tastes sweeter than usual. When you sip wine, the normal taste of wine is altered. Cynarine inhibits the sweet receptors on taste buds, so when we eat or drink something after the artichoke the receptors are reactivated and we notice sweetness more. 

The new thing was not about pairing artichokes with wine, but a different kind of matching. Urla Wine Producers and Viticulture Association launched their new project, Urla Wine Route, in parallel with the Artichoke Festival. Now forget about the cynarine; for me that is a match made in heaven. 

The slogan of this year’s festival was catchy and touched my heart, reminding me of my beautiful Mother’s Day present years ago. 

“Artichoke invites you with all its heart!”

“Urla invites you with all its heart, artichokes and wines…”

Bite of the Week 

Recipe of the Week: Roasted artichokes are delightful and quite easy to make if you’re good at barbequing. Take smallish artichokes, remove tough outer leaves, try to open up the center a bit and remove the chokes with a spoon if there is any. Chop lots of parsley and a few garlic cloves; a big bunch of parsley and 6-7 fat cloves will be enough for about 15 artichokes. You wouldn’t be starting a fire for less anyway. Salt and pepper inside the globes, stuff the parsley mix down to the heart of chokes and add a liberal dose of olive oil mixed a little water. Water will create some vapor and steam the artichokes in the roasting process. Keep artichokes covered in a moist paper or foil, so it is a cross between broiling, steaming and roasting. When the outsides of artichokes are completely charred and the inside soft (after about 35 to 45 minutes) they are done. Enjoy with your hands!

Fork of the Week:
A round of applause goes to Venedik Catering, who did the inaugural dinner at Urla Winery. Osman and Melodi Sezener, a brother and sister chef team, are originally from Pizza Venedik, an old favorite in İzmir. Anyone who grew up in Alsancak neighborhood has memories there; I do, even as a non-İzmir resident because my mother lives just on the next block. Good to see that they bring their family heritage to the next level with the new generation. 

Cork(s) of the Week: The inauguration of Urla Wine Route was launched with a wonderful gala dinner hosted by Urla Wine Producers and Viticulture Association at the dreamy Urla Winery premises. Matching wines with dishes displayed the diversity of Urla wines and here is the sublime list: Shrimps with wines from Bornova Muscat grapes (USCA Sonnet 5 Bornova Misketi 2014 and Şatomet Boutique Urla Bornova Misketi 2015); sea bass with Urla Chardonnays (USCA Sonnet 116 Chardonnay 2014 and Urla Chardonnay 2014); lamb shanks with reds of Urla (Urla Nero d’Avola & Urla Karası 2013, Mozaik Mahrem Petit Verdot-Rebo 2011, Urlice Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2011) and finally a chocolate dessert course with Urla Symposium 2015.