Castraure, the 'castrated' artichoke

At the Rialto market I came across a Venetian delicacy: Castraure (pronouce, kastra u ray).  Being myself originally from Milan, I had never come across this special looking plant. When I enquired,  I was told that castraure is the first floral shoot of the artichoke which is cut off a certain way to 'castrate' the plant. This cutting also produces many lateral leaves known as 'botoli'. These are smaller than the castraure and are far less expensive as there are many more of them. The season is short and last from mid March until mid April. the Castraure that were available at the Rialto in February were from Tuscany and are apparently no as tasty than they Venetian counterparts. The reason for this, lies not only in regional rivalry but also in the fact that the soil in Veneto is salty and therefore rich with minerals.

Castaraure are so tender that they can be eaten raw with a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of  extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan shavings.  Note, that they can also be sautéed in oil and braised with garlic or deep fried in batter.

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