Artichoke Season

little_artichokes.JPG

Baby Artichokes at the Market

I don’t know when I “learned to like” artichokes. It was before 1977 when we took a three-week family trip from Boston to explore California. Driving on the Route 1, along the Pacific, we marveled at the artichoke fields around Castroville, the Artichoke Capital of the World.

All we knew then was the big ol’ Globe Artichoke that we boiled and ate, leaf by leaf dipped in a butter sauce, until we got to the “choke,” which we carefully removed with a spoon to attack the heart or bottom of the artichoke. Of course, we naively overcooked them, but they were good eatin’, nonetheless. Far superior to the only other artichokes we knew, which came in a jar.

Just this year, I’ve become fixated on “Baby Artichokes.” Oh, I’ve been eating them for a few years, but this year it’s become a weekly affair. Previously, I would get a batch when the season opened in the spring, prepare a dish, maybe two, and give it up for the year. I had a limited arsenal of recipes, and prepping the baby ‘chokes was a royal pain (with the thorny ones, an actual pain at times).

Two things happened. Two years ago I discovered grilled artichokes, and this year I have found a plethora of new, easy and wonderful baby artichoke recipes. I was especially taken with this one in the Mariquita Farm email newsletter:

FIXING YOUNG ARTICHOKES: Trim them and sauté in broth, along with chopped onion, garlic, and basil. Or, cut them in quarters, and sauté in olive oil with the garlic and any herb you have on hand, with salt and pepper. Andy makes this dish at least once a week.

Well damn all, If Andy can do it once a week, I can too! When I started making Artichokes Provencal, I paid attention to how long it took to prep the ‘chokes. Thirty minutes, not bad, the thing is, you wind up with this big bag of “trimmings” and these 10 little artichokes. Well, the dish is so good, that it’s worth the effort.

baby_artichokes.JPG
artichokes_peeled.JPG

Artichokes Provencal
Adapted from The Vegetable Market Cookbook by Robert Budwig and published on the Mariquita website.

Cooked 4.06 — Did it with 3 small leeks, sliced, for 10 baby artichokes. Used about 1 1/4C wine. Turned out just saucy enough. Served as side with Salmon w/Curry Sauce
6 baby artichokes, purple or green
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped, OR 2 large leeks, OR 3 stalks green garlic, or 4 green onions, etc. all finely chopped
sprig of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
1 cup white wine, preferably a dry white wine

Cut the leaf tips off the baby artichokes and trim off the rough outer leaves. [It took 30 minutes to prep 10 artichokes. Be ruthless, pick off the leaves all the way to the yellow green, go beyond the light green. Otherwise, you’ll have tough leaves to mar your pleasure.] Cut each artichoke in half and remove the choke if necessary. (It usually isn’t with our small, fresh ones!) Immediately drop artichokes into a bowl of water to which you’ve added lemon juice to avoid the artichokes turning dark colored. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a low heat. Add the onion, drained artichokes, herbs, S & P and wine. Cook, covered, for 45 minutes, [that’s way too long, 20 or 25 minutes is good] or until tender, stirring from time to time. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Grilled Artichokes
Last night (May 18, 2004) I was grilling a flank steak. To accompany, I had 10 baby artichokes. As I was prepping the artichokes, I was thinking ragout, again (see below). Then I thought, “Why not grill?” I tossed them with Newman’s plus a little extra lemon juice and oil… grilled direct for slightly over 10 minutes before grilling the steak.
OH… MY… GOD! There was char and melty flesh and crunch and that erotic fresh artichoke flavor. Absolutely delicious.

artichoke_spring.jpg

Grilled ‘Chokes in Maine

I was so thrilled, I sent the recipe and a box of fine young artichokes to Eric & Alison in Maine, where they won’t have artichokes for a couple of months.

Before I discovered grilling, my prime time baby artichoke recipe was Artichoke & Potato Ragout from the Union Square Café Cookbook by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano. In the spring when the first really nice baby artichokes show up, I’d buy a dozen and do this recipe. My first was in 1995. It involves artichokes, potatoes, sliced garlic, oven roasted tomatoes and black olives, along with herbs, spices and wine. My notes from that day say “very rich and earthy.” [If you don’t have this book, you should. You can get a used copy at Powell’s for under ten bucks.]

The Term “Baby Artichokes” doesn’t necessarily mean young, but it does mean small. The big Globe artichokes that you get in the supermarket or farmers markets are the prime picking of the Globe artichoke plant. Andy Griffin, writing in the Ladybug Letter—an email newsletter from Mariquita Farm, near Holliston California, and one of my favorite merchants at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market—explains it this way:

“The very largest artichokes are generally held to be the best by most Americans. The giant buds are typically steamed or boiled and then the bracts are plucked off and used as vegetal shovels to convey mayonnaise or butter to the mouth. There’s nothing criminal in this; I’m sure I’ve eaten my weight in artichokes in this manner, but today I want to be contrarian and to promote the idea that the artichoke is much more than a large olive-drab dip delivery vehicle.

“It only makes sense to promote recipes for small artichokes because there will always be more small artichokes than there are large ones. The very first artichoke bud to thrust up through the thistle’s silvery foliage is always the largest because all the plant’s energy is being directed into this one emerging flower. When that first artichoke bud is cut off several more will follow as the plant strives to set seed. Instead of enjoying all the energy the plant has to offer each subsequent bud will have to share with its several companions. When the second wave of buds are harvested even more flower buds will emerge as the artichoke tries to spread its seed. These latest artichokes will be smaller still.”

So the “Baby Globe Artichoke” is probably the third or fourth generation of the plant. In addition, certain artichokes are bred to be smaller; the Violetto, a purple teardrop shaped breed from Sicily, and the thorny Sicilian Carciofi. Andy grows them all, and I usually buy a mixed batch.

Purple Artichokes with Black Olives is a very interesting, albeit fussy, recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters, that I cooked for Brian’s wife, Valerie, who took the long way to visit us on her move from Georgia to France in ought three. What you do is prep the baby artichokes, cut off their stems so they will stand up, spread the leaves and stuff them with a mixture of chopped parsley, garlic and black olives. Fit the artichokes, standing, into a small saucepan and let them stew in olive oil, water and wine over a low flame for about 30 minutes. Did I say fussy? But gooooood stuff.

Out of the recent spate of artichoke recipes, I’ve also done Baby Artichokes with Potatoes, Garlic, Olives and Shrimp from a group of artichoke recipes by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. I plan on trying them all. These are in New York Times Select [I am bookmarc1 if that helps]. If you can’t get them off the web, let me know and I’ll e-mail them to you.

artichokes_potatoes.JPG

artichikes_potatoes _shrimp.JPG

(The SF Chronicle follows artichokes into Greece.)

ARTICHOKE SEASON

When I lived in Jerusalem, Artichoke season was about more than the vegetable. Here’s a bit from my journal:

It is ART I CHOKE Season. I just ate two, with a butter/lemon juice/Worcestershire Sauce dip. They’re tight and full and sweet and wonderful from the first leaf to the exquisite bottom. I’ve always said that artichokes were the most sensual of foods, and I am satiated. Accompanied by some Edam cheese, black and small green olives and garlicky sliced cured pork.

But Artichoke Season means more than the arrival of the tender young vegetables; in Israel it is a state of mind. The arrival of spring and the Purim holidays [Israeli Halloween], and the anticipation of the long Passover holidays combine to create a lackadaisical state among the workers and professionals of the country. It’s not stated as an excuse or a fact: “It can’t be done just now, it’s Artichoke Season,” but rather as a reactive statement: “Of course, they won’t be finished on time, it’s Artichoke Season.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s