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Peak Pick: Artichokes

By James Parker, March 18, 2010  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by James Parker
artichokes1 My co-worker, Chris Ford, is a great chef. Both of us share a passion for food and can speak eloquently about whatever seasonal item strikes our fancy, but Chris is a bolder, more adventurous cook. Also far more patient – he once described the steps he takes to produce a red wine and herb reduction that sounds delicious but would never survive an impulsive, impatient chef like me. These days the topic occupying our kitchen chats and afternoon musings is spring vegetables. Domestic asparagus is starting, as are spring onions and garlic, with my favorite spring vegetable, artichokes, soon to follow. The dialogue mostly revolves around some of our favorite springtime dishes; his is a lemon-braised artichoke heart; mine a cream of artichoke soup. artichokes2I’m buying artichokes for our stores this spring and I have to say the romance I feel for this vegetable has taken a bit of a hit so far. This is not a dig on artichoke growers, mind you; I have a lot of respect for the difficulty of their jobs. It’s just for a plant that is essentially a thistle (nice word for “weed”), it is extremely delicate and temperamental.  Part of this has to do with the time of year artichokes are harvested. Most folks think of springtime as a wonderful time of rebirth. The truth is springtime weather can be the most volatile of the year for farmers (particularly during El Niño years). Excessive rainfall can overwhelm artichokes and cause the buds to brown around the edges of the petals. Late frost is also a danger for artichokes whose delicate exterior surface layers will literally peel away (a condition known as frost kissing). But by mid-April, the weather generally stabilizes and for a few short weeks artichokes become abundant and reasonably priced. Here’s Chris’ recipe for Lemon-Braised Artichoke Hearts: artichokes31/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt Small pinch freshly ground pepper 4 medium to large artichokes 1/2 lemon Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Mix well and set aside while preparing the artichokes. Snap outer leaves from an artichoke. Cut off the top half, and then use a paring knife to trim down to the heart, rubbing cut surfaces with the lemon half as you work to avoid discoloration. Cut the heart in half and scrape out the choke with a spoon. Cut each piece in half again. As each artichoke heart quarter is completed, immediately turn it in the marinade to coat completely. When all the artichokes are trimmed, put the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Pour the artichokes and marinade into a baking dish (or cook them in the saucepan if it is ovenproof), cover with foil and cook until the artichokes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the cooking liquid. If preparing a larger number of artichokes, just increase the marinade proportionately. There are numerous ways to serve these artichokes. They are perfect as an appetizer salad on their own with their braising liquid. Make sure to have crusty bread on hand to sop up the juices. You can also slice or roughly chop and scatter across a cheese pizza. Be sure to drizzle some of the braising liquid on the pizza as well. Try roughly chopping and adding to a risotto at the last minute just to heat through. Add some of the braising liquid, too, to flavor the risotto. Season a nice piece of fish with salt and pepper and place on top of the artichokes to cook with them the last 10 to 15 minutes of their cooking time. Drizzle with olive oil just before serving. Here’s my Cream of Artichoke Soup recipe: 3 large or 5 small 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) Salt and pepper to taste Steam the artichokes long enough so that the leaves can be removed easily (25 to 35 minutes depending on size), allow to cool. 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. 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 a third. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Mix in a blender until smooth and creamy. Add cream and salt to taste and reheat. Serve with warm crusty bread (I like sourdough). artichokes4In a few weeks our office will be swimming in artichoke samples – mainly vendors showing different ways of packaging but also different varieties of artichokes (there is a variety called the Lyon I am anxious to try). When they arrive we plan to make a big batch of both recipes for the office as we welcome spring to Northern California. Both these recipes take some effort but the reward at the end is worth it. What’s your favorite artichoke recipe? Many thanks to Chris Ford and Ha Lam (photos) for contributing to this post.
Category: Food & Recipes




Stacy says ...
I make Italian stuffed artichokes and they are easy and most delicious. Also, pan-fried artichoke hearts with bearnaise sauce is outstanding. So glad you'll be getting more artichokes in your stores. I hope more people try them.
03/24/2010 3:26:06 AM CDT
Dianne Horwath says ...
Both my husband and I were born and raised in California and we grew up on artichokes. You're receipe for artichoke hearts sounds delicious but what a waste of delicious leaves. I only buy the in-season artichokes with the thick skinned leaves which are perfect for dipping in your favorite sauce. After trimming I either steam or pressure cook the artichokes, squirt with a little fresh lemon and serve with our favorite sauce which is to simply wisk mayo, fresh minced garlic, and fresh lemon juice. We dip the leaves in the sauce and run them through our teeth to scrape all the meat off the leaves. Serve with crusty bread,good olive oil,and our favorite bottle of wine and thats our whole dinner. Yum
03/24/2010 12:13:47 PM CDT
Neil Aird says ...
What about ramps. One of the few vegetables that is only available once a year and then for only a short period.
03/24/2010 3:57:52 PM CDT
Patricia O'Brecht says ...
What advise do you have for grilling baby artichokes? I've had them in Spanish restaurants and love them, but my own attempt failed miserably!! Thanks! Patricia Denver, CO
03/24/2010 4:20:04 PM CDT
Gudrun says ...
I also am in love with artichokes! I can eat them every night (probably for lunch and dinner, too). I appreciate you sharing your recipes. Good luck on the harvest!
03/24/2010 5:45:48 PM CDT
Lisa Brownstein says ...
could you do a video to show how to correctly cut the artichoke, I am not getting the method by what is written for the lemon braised
03/25/2010 10:55:50 AM CDT
hsiaw says ...
Hi Patricia, first you'll want to prep the baby artichokes for the grill by peeling off the outer leaves and cutting off the woody parts of the stem. After that, you'll want to slice them into halves or quarters and boil for 7-10 minutes. Pat dry and toss with oil before finishing on the grill. This will ensure they are thoroughly cooked and delicious!
03/26/2010 9:06:03 AM CDT
Carole says ...
I too would love a video or more description of how to prep the artichokes for the lemon-braised recipe. I have always cut only the top 1/4, remove the choke and cut the tips of all the leaves. Then eat by scraping the meat of each leaf between the teeth after dipping in either lemon butter or a mayo garlic lemon mix. My understanding of your recipe is that you use NONE of the leaves - only the hearts?
03/27/2010 10:55:30 PM CDT
Elizabeth says ...
Italians never waste the leaves! If we only want the hearts for a recipe, we keep the leaves and boil or steam them. Then we dip them in an olive oil/baslamic vinaigrette and scrape the goodness with our teeth like Diane Horwath writes. It's also a healthy snack. My mother stuffs small artichokes by trimming off a bit of the top, then pulling some of the leaves open to make room for her breadcrumb/egg/parmesan/parsley/garlic stuffing. She then cooks them in tomato sauce where the stuffing soaks up the yummy sauce and gets super moist and soft. The artichokes also flavour the pasta sauce so wonderfully.
03/29/2010 6:33:22 AM CDT
Jeanette J. Sandberg says ...
I never see the old Italian recipe like Mama use to make. I steam the artichokes after I trim them. I make a stuffing - a great stuffing! I then bake them.... They are delicious that way. When I saw the beautiful pictures of your Artichokes, I have to run in and buy some. Stuffed Artichokes manke a meal - add a nice Veggie Salad and you have a glorious meal... The FULL recipe is great!!! Jeanette
03/31/2010 5:30:00 PM CDT
parkerj says ...
I completely agree- you should never waste the petals of an artichoke. If I am making my soup I will generally cut the interior petals at about the halfway point and cook them down with the stems and heart, The outer leaves will get eaten what we are waiting for the soup to cook. Neil- I have only seen Ramps in the Pacific Northwest and only in the spring. They are a rare and wonderful wild onion I wish someone could figure out how to produce, Lisa - Chris is on vacation but I will ask him to to describe it again when he returns- I have seen him do it but I don't think I could explain it as well as he could. Harvest update- April has brought a significant improvement- I am in love with artichokes again!
04/01/2010 9:16:18 PM CDT
parkerj says ...
Hi Patricia- I tried grilled artichokes for the first time a few weeks ago. The trick is to steam them first and then marinate them (I used olive oil and balsamic vinegar with some oregano and chives from my herb garden) you cut then in half, marinate for an hour or longer if you have the tim then slap on the grill (indirect heat) for ten minutes or so on each side.
04/01/2010 9:21:39 PM CDT
Joan Delafuente says ...
Do your stores carry the baby artichoke's? There is much less waste.
04/03/2010 1:48:52 PM CDT
vaughnm says ...
Our product selection varies from store to store, so check in with your local store/s directly. Thanks! http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/all/index.php
04/05/2010 10:37:31 AM CDT