Seasonal Foods: Artichokes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve been to the farmer’s market at all in recent weeks, you may have noticed a staple vegetable of California popping up at your favorite coastal farmers’ stands, the artichoke. While other parts of the country don’t see this often misunderstood and delicious vegetable until the springtime, here in California we are lucky to get a crop of them in the fall. They favor our coastal environment, growing from Half Moon Bay all the way down to Watsonville. They grow alongside their coastal friends the strawberry, brussel sprout, and broccoli. If you take a drive down Highway 1 in the fall, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a huge pile of artichokes at a farm stand.

I think artichokes get a bad rap because of their thorny, scaly exterior. They aren’t exactly a friendly-looking vegetable, but I assure you they are worth the effort of cooking and disassembling them to reach their tender, delicious core. They leaves are basically a vehicle for butter; I like to steam an artichoke whole and serve it with lemon-garlic butter. I peel the leaves off, one by one, dipping them into the butter and scraping off the tender bits with my front teeth. Once I get down to the heart, I scoop out the “choke” (the fuzzy inedible stuff in the center) and snarf down the heart and stem as quickly as I can get it into my mouth.

Cooking an artichoke is easy; simply peel off the tough outer leaves until you get to the more tightly-closed ones, then trim the spiky tips off any leaves you can reach with a pair of kitchen shears. Then, chop off 1/2″ of the tip of the artichoke (opposite the stem end). If there is a good stem on it, I use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin of the stem (the stem is edible and quite delicious). Then, pop it into your steam basket and give it a good steam until a knife slides into the thickest part without much effort. Be careful not to over-cook it. Since artichokes vary in size, cooking times will vary.

If you are lucky enough to find really tiny artichokes, you can roast those whole and eat them as-is.

Pairing wine with artichokes is quite difficult, as a chemical in the artichoke clashes with a component in many wines which make them taste bitter and metallic together. However, there are several wines that work beautifully with artichokes; Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Blanc de Blanc Champagne, un-oaked Chardonnay, Muscadet, Verdicchio, Alsatian Riesling, and Pinot Blanc. Basically you want to avoid anything with tannin or oak (all red wine and some whites), and focus on dry white wines with ample acidity.

Do you love artichokes? How do you like to eat them? Is there a condiment you like to enjoy them with best? Let us know in the comments.