In Awe of the Choke

Artichoke_graphic_mattbites
From last year and the old site comes a blog entry about artichokes. Since it’s artichoke season I wanted to repost it here in the new digs, and luckily the early deep freeze a few months didn’t ruin everything. Wahooooo!

My first foray into a closer relationship with artichokes began as a work assignment. Drive to Lompoc, California, chat with a farmer, get some pictures and get back to Los Angeles without becoming a part of the daily human-and-metal gridlock. Coffee in hand, I raced up the 5, beating traffic and made it with a few minutes to spare.

Until that point, I categorized artichokes as one of those foods shrouded in history, enjoyed by Romans and Greeks but not necessarily an everyday part of my kitchen. Spiky, thorny, gorgeous yet inhospitable, my little mind was about to be opened to the joys of this thistle.

I spent the day with Steve Jordan. Steve is a man who knows his chokes. In fact, his level of knowledge is quite intimidating. Serious, polite and quiet, Steve is a forth generation California farmer who has been growing artichokes for over twenty years. California grows the majority of artichokes consumed in the United States, and they’ve been grown here since the 1800s when Italian immigrants brought them to the west. The coastal weather of areas like Lompoc and Castroville are perfect for artichokes, and here they thrive like crazy.

Steve maintains over 550 acres of green and purple artichokes, and when he’s not tilling and toiling the land he spends time in Italy, the artichoke’s country of origin, to meet with other artichoke farmers and share ideas and information. He’s even a member of the global artichoke congress - who knew?

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I always thought an artichoke was an artichoke was an artichoke. Boy, was I wrong. Steve actually spends many years nurturing, testing and growing various types of artichokes, many of them starting from European seedlings and spending time in his lab before making their way to the field. It’s important to note that his artichokes are not genetically modified, thank goodness. If he discovers a variety he likes and believes can do well commercially then he plants it, although it takes anywhere from 2-7 years before it will end up on our tables. Over the years he’s developed green and purple artichokes like the Campania, Fiesole and Lyon and he’s always on the lookout for new, delicious varieties.

Then there’s the taste. An artichoke fresh from the field is like a green gift from heaven, full of delicious, grassy flavor that is delicious by itself, even raw. Lightly steamed, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, drawn butter or a simple aioli and I could skip just about everything else and be a very happy man.

I’m happy to say that artichokes are now a part of my regular routine. Steamed, baked, stuffed, grilled or dipped, you basically can’t go wrong with a hearty, fresh artichoke. I think those Romans were on to something indeed.

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Mattbites_choke_butterMy favorite way to devour an artichoke is to steam it and eat it with aioli and butter. Cholesterol what? If you have a particularly spiney choke you can snip off the tips with kitchen shears and rinse it well. Make sure to remove the excess water as it can sog down the choke when you steam it. Steam for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the artichoke. Enjoy warm and please, make a mess. It’s much more fun that way.

Comments

  1. says

    You are so lucky to be near where the artichokes grow. I’m drooling over the steamed artichoke, butter and aioli photo. I’d take that over dessert any day.

  2. says

    Ever wonder who the hell figured out you could eat one of these things? Right up there with olives. All I know is that I’m grateful someone did.

    We’re still getting baby artichokes up here in northland, and following on a dish I had at Incanto, I shaved them raw into a salad. They have a bright, grassy flavor and a strong artichokey perfume.

  3. says

    I remember eating artichokes when I was a kid. I dunked the leaves in melted butter, scraped all the “meat” off with my teeth, and then gave the “yucky” heart to my mom. She loved eating artichokes with me. Duh.

  4. says

    i’ve enjoyed approximately 2000 steamed artichokes in my life, and they’ve always been eaten with lemon butter and nothing more.

    aoili? HOW HAVE I MISSED THAT???

    that might be my birthday dinner.

  5. says

    Artichokes are so oddly beautiful; living so far away from those acres of thistles is kind of heartbreaking for us!

    Last spring was the first time I saw the baby purple ones at Whole Foods.

    My husband still says the best present I ever gave him was a case of baby artichokes delivered by the UPS man.

  6. says

    How did you get your ‘chokes to be so impossibly perfect? They look like lacquered, scale models, like the stuff you see in the windows of bento joints.

    I don’t do a lot of fussing with my chokes either. Boil/steam them whole, then peel the leaves, then use a paring knife to live off the hair scalp. I think make a quick dice of that heart and dunk away. My sauce is equal parts of melted butter and lime juice, and a criminal amount of ground kosher salt and coarse pepper. I like them better refridgerated.

    The fancy way of cutting the tops, giving them a lemon juice bath to keep the color, and all that other prep is way too much trouble. The leaves are nature’s serving utensils.

    I must say as a kid the de rigeur sauce was Miracle Whip and ketchup.

  7. says

    Matt-
    Excellent write up of my favorite thistle! One of my favorite grilled arties is at Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach, over the oak fire with their own special garlic aioli.

    Sean-
    I’m with you, who the heck figured out that if you boil the tip of this plant for 30-60 minutes you could rip the flesh off the base of the leaves for a special meal? I’ll tell you who, it was my hero!

  8. says

    Have you tried Fried Baby Artichokes?! No batter, no coating, just pure baby chokes sliced up and fried with garlic, lemon and salt. If you are lucky to be near a good Spanish Tapas restaurant they might have it as “Alcachofas a la Plancha” If you aren’t, I just wrote up the recipe and took pic. I think they have are my all time favorite vegetable!
    -Jaden

  9. says

    I love artichokes, but my dipping sauce is much less sophisticated- Dukes mayo with a bit of adobo sauce mixed in (just take your fish oil and do about 50 crunches afterwards) Thanks for the beutiful photos (I have never seen purple artichokes before!)

  10. says

    i so love artichokes! i was born in castroville ON an artichoke ranch! really! and my favorite way to eat them is like ‘steamy kitchen’ said, the french fried artichokes. i just recently made some, and they were yummy! the recipe i have is supposed to be the same one that came from ‘the giant artichoke’, a restaurant in castroville that has been there forever. i used to live right behind it, and it smelled so good when they cooked up those ‘chokes!

  11. says

    hey, to me the artichoke is the most intriguing horticulture object… the shape, the ways they are eaten, the color, the texture… just so beautiful to look at!

    Japan was a blast! So going back before the end of the year. Saw some friends at Cirque’s touring show there… and met more interesting people. I started to post some pics on flickr. Check it out…

    Hasta muy pronto

  12. says

    matt –
    i prefer it in its more natural setting myself. looks wonderful. i adore these photos (as usual — i think i must say this every time i comment on your blog). i recently saw another recipe involving an artichoke on Smitten Kitchen’s Blog — i’m so picking some up tonight! i think ill have them steamed too — i’m unpacking and frankly i don’t think i could find any more complicated kitchen tools than a pot at this point.

    -Linda

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