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Romancing the Artichoke

By James Parker, April 12, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by James Parker
I have a personality quirk that emerges every year at the start of the artichoke season. Right around February I get it in my head that it is time for artichokes to be available and no amount of weather, historical data or calm reasoning can dislodge the notion. Fact is, availability does begin to increase around February as desert production near Coachella in Southern California starts to come on line. But conventional wisdom says the true season is much later in the spring and no matter how I attempt to impose my will, artichokes and Mother Nature will inevitably wear me down. I think part of the reason I have a thorny relationship with artichokes is because they are only a few generations away from a wild plant. Part of the thistle family, artichokes (and their larger plant cousin, Cardone) seem at times to be just too wild and free to be consigned to a predicable “cultivated” existence alongside neat rows of other, better behaved vegetables. If an artichoke was a person, it would be a romantic and sometimes I wish they were. Mystery, spontaneity and unpredictability are all characteristics I love in family and friends — not so much so with vegetables. It is no surprise that the majority of U.S. commercial production is centered along the California central coast as soil type and growing conditions are very similar to where artichokes are grown successfully in other parts of the world. I’m certain driving by the fields every day along the coast is one of the reasons I have such high expectations of them. Artichoke plants can grow in surprisingly poor soil conditions but are very sensitive to climate — overly wet or cold conditions can prevent harvest or damage the crop. Late frosts will cause the outer layer of the artichoke to peel; this “frost kissing” does not affect the flavor at all but the appearance make them much harder to sell. Artichokes are grown all over the world and are an integral part of many food cultures. Particularly in those countries that border the Mediterranean and over the years new varieties have been introduced here in the U.S. to test their viability. One recent success is the Lyon (pronounced “Lee-on,” with a French accent if you want to sound romantic). The Lyon is flatter and rounder than the more common Green Globe variety but has a wonderful nutty flavor and unusually large heart. They are available throughout April and into May, weather permitting, and are often cut with a longer stem (which is also edible). They have become a favorite for me, and I use them in my go-to spring dinner: Cream of Artichoke Soup 3 large or 5 medium artichokes 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped Olive oil 28 oz low sodium chicken (or vegetable) stock Pinch of nutmeg 2 oz heavy cream (optional and to taste) Salt and pepper to taste Steam the artichokes enough that the leaves can be removed easily (25 to 35 minutes depending on size). Allow to cool and remove the leaves and the “choke” (the fuzzy inedible interior layer that eventually becomes the flower), leaving the heart and stem. The stems can also be used but you should trim off the exterior, stringy layer. I also use a spoon to scrape the flesh off of the leaves. Set aside. Chop onions and sauté with olive oil in a 4-quart pot, taking care not to burn, until soft and translucent (5 minutes). Add the artichoke hearts and stems along with the nutmeg, pepper, and chicken stock. Cook over low heat until liquid is reduced by 1/3. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Mix in a blender until smooth and creamy. Add cream, if using, and salt to taste and gently reheat. Serve with warm crusty bread (I like sourdough), a nice green salad, and a small piece of fish (I do a pan-fried Tilapia). By early April, I will have been angry and frustrated with artichokes for the better part of two months. Most folks in the office know to wait until after the last frost to remind me how much I love this plant and how it reminds us every year that you can strive to understand nature but you can never control it. And like friends or family, passions can run high when things don’t turn out the way that you think they should. But by mid-April, all will be forgiven and I will be back in love with this wild, unpredictable thistle. Many thanks to Bob Flood for contributing to this post
Category: Produce

 

21 Comments

Comments

Jean says ...
I didn't find out about artichokes until I was in the mid-30's. Guess I was not very adventurous when younger, but I don't ever even hearing about them. My first intorduction was love at first sight and i have eaten them since. I will make the soup recipe....can't imagine that it won't be wonderful !! Yum !!
04/20/2011 11:41:38 AM CDT
Joe says ...
I remember an old galfriend of mine who used to steam the artichokes and melt some butter. We used to pick off the petals and dip them in the butter and suck out the insides. Very delicately delicious.
04/13/2011 7:13:31 PM CDT
Mary says ...
Artichokes were the first vegetable that I would eat as a kid. We had them growing in our backyard along side a lemon tree--heaven! My mom would always serve them steamed with lemon butter and my sister and I would fight over the hearts. I took me years to reliably eat any other vegetable, but artichokes remain my favorite!
04/12/2011 7:42:31 AM CDT
parkerj says ...
My wife Erin grew up on the central coast- they didn't grow them but had access to artichokes nearly year round and she also remembers them as one of her first favorites. I have some in my garden (mainly for flowers- the bloom is a beautiful purple) in addition to a Cardone which is roughly 4x as big as the artichoke plant. Does anyone have a good recipe for Cardone?
04/13/2011 11:42:10 AM CDT
Princess says ...
I LOVE artichokes! Grew up on them!! There's so many ways to make them! Growing up we'd just slather them in butter and dip them in salt! Now, I've opted for a slightly healthier way to eat them.. I drizzle olive oil and vinegar on them and enjoy... mmm!!!
04/20/2011 12:05:07 PM CDT
Merrie says ...
This was one of the first foods I and my children had as babies...My mother used to steam them and scrape the leaves and mash them up with the heart to make sure I had enough iron as I was preemie... I did it for my children and they are using the food processor for my grandsons... It still remains one of my favorite vegetables. It is one of the "A's" that I just love Artichoke, Asparagus, & Avacado. Must have something to do with being a 5th generation Californian... Such a wonderful flavor I like them steamed without any dips... I just happen to be on the way to the store to pick up some artichokes right now...
04/13/2011 8:01:49 PM CDT
Amy S. says ...
MMMM! Artichokes are hands down my favorite special treat. I remember eating these from early childhood and still love them just as much. I have two right now ready to be enjoyed! I get so excited each year when they arrive on the scene. Steamed with garlic butter and "naked" are my preference. Yummy food that is soooo healthy too!
04/13/2011 8:42:17 PM CDT
Sandra Sizer says ...
I wish we could get our hands on the tiny baby artichokes [carciofi] that I've had in Italy. Deep fried, they are a wonderful treat!
04/14/2011 7:37:43 AM CDT
Darlyn says ...
Thank you for this quite enlighening story about artichokes. All I remember is from a young girl, my aunts used to stuff them, yum! Then my sister & her husband continued with this tradition. I have read some new health benefits of artichokes, but always feel so imtimidated about cooking them myself. I like this recepie, and thankfull it only has 2oz of cream. Thank you so much. If you can tell me how to find other, non-creamy recepies to prepare artichokes, I would apreciate this. Again thank you,
04/14/2011 7:46:59 AM CDT
bepkom says ...
@Darlyn: Our online recipe database has thousands of recipes you can search through. Just click this link: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/
04/14/2011 9:33:18 AM CDT
Barbara says ...
My friend told me that artichokes are one of the vegetables that should be organically grown, however I cannot find organic artichokes. First is this true, do they need to be organic and if so where do I find them? Thanks!
04/14/2011 9:38:40 AM CDT
bepkom says ...
Barbara: Artichokes grow just fine when done so conventionally. Please check in with your local store to find out if they ever carry organic varieties.
04/14/2011 10:15:55 AM CDT
thedaintyvegetarian.com says ...
I love love love artichoke season. I must have eaten 15 so far this season : )
04/14/2011 10:47:26 AM CDT
monica says ...
I am new lover of artichokes and have only had them from a can as part of a fresh salad. I am sure that fresh are better but other than steaming, does any have any saute recipes that can be used with other veggies or over fish? I will be trying the soup recipe posted. Looking forward to using this veggie in a fresher way.
04/14/2011 11:30:21 AM CDT
parkerj says ...
Hi Darlyn, I wanted to mention you don't have to add cream to this recipe. I do primarily for texture purposes but it is not required. Hi Barbara, Artichokes can in fact be grown organically but only in a few areas - there is a long list of pests that love artichokes too and very few natural methods for controling them. Curreently, only about 2% of the crop is organically grown and we buy them whenever they are available
04/14/2011 4:21:23 PM CDT
MT says ...
Hi JP, I also love artichokes and became acquainted with cardone (aka cardoons) when I found some at Whole Foods a few years ago. I used a French recipe in which the cardone are baked as a gratin (in a bechamel sauce with Gruyere cheese and nutmeg). You can use other cheeses in place of the Gruyere (such as Parmigiano, Fontina etc. or a combination). After cleaning the cardone(remove thorns, strings and tough leaves), you need to simmer them in some water with lemon slices until reasonably tender. Then you layer them in a baking dish with the bechamel and cheese(s)and bake until bubbly and the top is golden brown.
04/20/2011 1:55:29 PM CDT
QuincesandthePea says ...
beautiful! I've been craving artichokes lately too. Pricey but so worth it!
04/23/2011 9:34:14 AM CDT
sandy says ...
My grandfather's farm in nortern Italy grew artichokes for sale. As a child, my mother remembers preparing the artichokes by cutting all the leaves away (the heart was what everyone was after). Coming to Canada she learned to prepare them whole by sauting onions and ground meat then, stuffing them with a small portion of meat, then sitting the artichokes in the onion meat mixture. As children we always asked her to scatter some loose leaves in the bottom of the pan as these were the most flavuorful. When they were ready you would use the leaves to pick up some of the meat and scrape off the leaves with your teeth Yum! When we visited California, we had the biggest, tastiest artichokes we had ever had~I would move there just to have these! To this day my mother regrets wasting all those delicious leaves.
04/27/2011 10:28:22 AM CDT
julie says ...
I see purple artichokes in your picture, yet I have never seen them in stores, only the green ones. Are purple artichokes available at Whole Foods?
05/04/2011 9:06:22 AM CDT
bepkom says ...
@Julie: They're available in some of our stores. Product selection varies between the different regions, so it's best to check in with the store where you shop to see if they'll be available. Thanks!
05/04/2011 9:52:00 AM CDT
Rick says ...
Delicious ... served with patience! Not anywhere near where artichokes grow, I confess to resorting to buying them canned year round! We do have them show up at the local super and farmers markets in a season though, maybe I should try picking up prickly or two - of 5!
05/09/2011 11:17:58 AM CDT