Welcome, Produce Profilers to my produce
world! And more specifically to my artichoke world!!
It is officially spring when these kissin' cousins to the
thistle start appearing in the local produce palaces. (With
regard to that springtime comment, I will disregard the
ample presence of a very cold non-spring-like rain falling
Although wild specimens were enjoyed
in way olden days by the Romans, artichokes were not formally
cultivated until the fifteenth century by, no surprise
here, the Italians. (Italy's artichoke infatuation is illustrated
by the fact that they consume 175 per capita, while U.S.
consumption is less than one per capita.)
Catherine de Medicis is credited with
introducing the 'choke to those other European folks who
know something about food, the French. Their popularity
spread throughout Europe, but did not really grow U.S.
roots until the 1920's. A couple of Italians planted 150
acres down Monterey way and now virtually 100% of the U.S.
commercial crop is grown in California. With Monterey county
being the big dog with a 75% share. (For the numerically
inclined, that is about 6,500 acres.)
If you have ever driven down that way
no doubt you've seen row after row of these bushy, silvery
plants. They are perennial plants that produce year after
year, although they are generally replanted after 5-10
years. They actually make a very decorative addition to
a yard that has a forgotten corner that needs filling.
(Last week I failed to mention that one of Sweetwater Nurseries
most popular organic garden transplants is the artichoke.)
The plants produce year round but their
big push is in the spring, March, April and May account
for more than half of the harvest. Late fall brings a "second
season" peaking around October.
Artichokes come in a variety of sizes.
One size tastes no better than another, although the hunka-
munka size packs the biggest heart. They are all picked
mature, but the big ones grow from the main center shoot,
mediums grow from the central portion of the plant and
the babies grow at the bottom. For this reason, you fans
of large, impressive artichokes should be eating them NOW.
As the season progresses fewer large one are available.
Pick artichokes that are heavy for their size with a bright, fresh green
color. Avoid those that are real banged up, but please realize that artichokes
More about Artichokes
All Choked Up
Guido the Gardener
Dan the Produce Man
Dan the Produce Man
Dan the Produce Man
brown when a cut or scrape
is exposed to air. So even those that were properly handled
will show a bump or bruise. They are especially susceptible
to dehydration so be wary of those that are dry or have
leaves folded in half. If your grocer displays them in
ice...hooray! When you get them home, put them in a plastic
bag with a spritz or to of water and they will keep 5 or
6 days. But your best bet is to buy them and eat them!!
RECIPE TIME! This
is what I call my Sort of Steamed
Artichokes. To prep bigger ones whole-slash off the
top inch or so and lop off the stem and clean under cold
running water. In a pot (size depends on how many 'chokes
you're cooking) pour in about an inch of water then
a couple of glugs of olive oil, (In the Guido the Gardener
Guide to Culinary Measurements, a "glug" is
more than a "splash" but less than a "chug")
a splash of balsamic vinegar, some chopped fresh herbs,
and some chopped onions, garlic, shallots or other
members of the speecy spicy family. You can also take
route and pour in some pungent salad dressing into
your water. Once I used a ginger flavored dressing
the artichokes an unexpected but delicious flavor.
Get this mixture to a boil and then
pop in the 'chokes bottoms up. By slicing the top off,
it will sit straight up. And make sure to spread open
the leaves.Turn down the heat and simmer until you can
easily pierce the base with a knife - about 35-45 minutes.
The point of all of this is to add flavor to the artichoke
while it cooks, so you avoid all the dips and sauces.When
tender ... mangia! Just pull each leaf between your teeth
and savor the flavor. When you get to the heart, scrape
out the fuzzy "choke" and enjoy the dense texture
of the bowl shaped bottom. The strained cooking mixture
also makes a delicious artichoke flavored soup base.
It's ALL GOOD.
I eat them just because they make
my stomach smile. But they are a Ô90Õs kind
of food. Nutritious! (Vitamin C, folic acid magnesium,
phosphorus et al.) And fun to eat, yeah! For LOTS of
artichoke recipes, check out "The California
Artichoke Cookbook", published by
Celestial Arts. Lots of info for five bucks!