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This species of artichoke was known in Tuscany prior to the 19th century and its origins are much older still. The plant originally came from Ethiopia and first reached the Campania region of Italy under the name of "Cynara". The Empoli denomination appears in documents and texts that dateback to the early 20th century when artichokes became widely cultivated for the market.

You can taste them at a special event, the Sagra del carciofo, which is going to be held at Empoli on May 12, 13 and then again on May 18 and 19.
The Empoli artichoke is a bright shade of green tending towards violet. Its consistency is compact and tender and it has a very delicate flavour. In addition to its colour and especially its consistency – indeed they are called "mamme" since the shape is similar to that of a woman's breast – its main characteristics are its lack of spikes and its production from April to June. The consistency comes from a traditional cultivation technique by which the shoots called "carducci", which are taken from the best plants, are transplanted in Autumn. The success of the Empoli artichoke stems from a series of factors, in particular the conditions of the terrain and the climate; the former is flat and alluvial and the latter has mid-to-high warmth and humidity in late Spring early Summer. The geographical position of Empoli is also favourable to trade; the large agricultural market stands at where the Frankish pilgrim route crosses the link between Florence and Pisa. Furthermore, the artichoke with its bitter-sweet flavour marries well with the extra-virgin olive oil produced in the surrounding hills and has given it wider scope both raw and cooked. 
The artichokes are cultivated and sold by growers who sell directly to the public from the farm, and by enthusiasts who grow them for their own use. Production is limited (some one thousand plants a year) and selling is sometimes complicated because since the species is late it gets to the market later than the artichokes from the south of Italy. The producers are found in area of Cerreto Guidi and Empoli. 
The Empoli artichoke is registered as one of the traditional agricultural food products of the Tuscany Region. 
The artichoke is ideal at absorbing the dressings used and keeps its consistency in cooking, so it can be used to prepare a variety of dishes. In the area of its production it is often eaten raw, in a salad with oil and lemon or in a dip, but also fried in batter or boiled. It is the main ingredient of two typical dishes, namely fried artichokes and risotto Empolese. 
It has been discovered that that cynarin, found in the stalk, leaves and the inflorescence, is good for the organism. 
Furthermore, the artichoke is known to contain sodium, potassium, vitamins, phosphorus and iron – as well as having very few calories (22 per 100 grams).


Published: 13/7/2006

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