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Produce Profile by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro
All Choked Up For Dinner

As Californians, we are soooooo lucky! Not only are we the convertible and roller blade capital of the U.S., the artichoke calls the Golden State home!! (Produce trivia easily overwhelms me.) Yep, 100% of all the nations 'chokes come from here, with Monterey county ringing up three quarters of that.

Although this relative of the thistle has taken quite kindly to our laid back lifestyle, it did not originate here. The Mediterranean region is where it sent up its first flowers.

Even today, this unique looking vegetable is still more popular "over there" than "here". Italy produces about seven times more, and Spain about six times more artichokes then the US. (Although we did make the top five!) How's this for an interesting figure:Italy consumes 175 artichokes per capita, but Americans eat less than ONE per mouth!

The Spaniards are credited with their California intro, but it took a few adventurous Italians to make them commercially successful. In the early 1920's, Angelo Del Chiaro and his cousin Dan, (Dan? how about Dante at least!) planted 150 acres. By the end of the decade almost 12,000 acres were covered with this tall, bushy perennial plant. Acreage has dipped to around 9,000 acres, but it is steady at that figure for many years.

Just like their companion springtime stars, asparagus, artichokes are perennial plants. As a grower, once you are in, you are in for many a season. The plants take a while to develop a sturdy, (but shallow) root system, but they can produce for as long as fifteen years. In practice, farmers replant on a rotating basis every five years or longer.

Produce Profile Quiz #563987-1 ... And where do they get the baby artichoke plants? From existing plants! After every harvest, the bushes are given a major trim, like below the soil level. From this "stump" grow several shoots, which are free thinking, independent plants. Artichoke begets yet another artichoke.

While I'm into sizing (was I?) ... size does not determine quality or maturity, but rather the location on the plant where they were grown. The biggest ones grow from the center stalk, the smallest ones grow from the bottom of the plant.

Seeing as Californians eat a full half of the countries artichokes, is there anyone still out there who has NOT enjoyed the nutty flavor or the leisure dining experience of Cynara scolymus?

Here goes: to serve bigger ones whole-slash off the top inch or so and lop off the stem and clean under cold running water. From here they can be boiled, steamed, or microwaved.

 

 

For you recipe fans ... this is what I call my Sort of Steamed Artichokes. In a pot (size depends on how many 'chokes you're cooking) sauté, in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a good handful of onions, a few cloves of garlic, some chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, whatever you have handy) and a tablespoon or so of Balsamic vinegar. Put the already prepped artichokes in this mixture bottoms up. By slicing the top off, it will sit straight up. And make sure to spread open the leaves. Once they are in place, add hot water to the pot until you are about an inch below the artichoke heart. This will keep the heart from getting soggy. Spark up the fire and cook for about 35 to 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.

If you can easily pierce the base with a knife ... 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. Mo' GOOD.

A collection of bottoms can be quartered and sauteed by themselves for a side dish or an entire 'choke can be stuffed with many imaginative fillings and baked for a whole meal. They are excellent served either warm or cold,so cook more than you need and they'll keep in the refer for a nutritious snack.

Oh, nutrition. Fiber-lots, folacin-lots, same with vitamin C, along with other vitamins and minerals. And not enough calories to fuss with. Just forget those dipping sauces!!

Even though artichokes are around almost year-round, fully half come to the marketplace in March, April and May. So get daring, get all "choked up" for dinner!

 

More Artichoke Recipes

Artichokes Ala Greque

Nan's Stuffed Artichokes

More about Artichokes:

Feathered Pineapples

Dan the Produce Man

My Artichoke World
Guido the Gardener

Kiss of Burgundy Artichokes
Dan the Produce Man