15 Sep 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by hulahawaii1976

Coastal Produce Icon Seems Scary But is Easily Enjoyed

Living in California is a chef's dream. There is so much great produce to choose from and much is grown here, like the artichoke.

Looking at the plant objectively, the artichoke seems aggressive and unappealing, more resembling a dandelion or thistle than any tasty treat. The homage owed the first hearty individual to attempt to cook these giant buds is substantial. 

But now the artichoke, a northern California produce icon, is prized throughout the world. More artichokes come from our part of California than any other region on the globe. The tragedy is so many Californians only experience the jarred, marinated variety because they are intimidated by the preparation process. I am here to assuage your fears and share some tips and recipes to get you started.

First off, there are a number of varieties of artichoke available and they're worth a bit of discussion. The small artichokes you sometimes see at the market are known as baby or loose artichokes. When the plant nears the end of it's growth cycle each year, there comes a point when small artichokes will not get any larger. If left on the plant they will get tough and begin to open in all their thistle splendor. 

These little nuggets are the artichokes used to make all those marinated and canned preparations you see in the store. Check out the videos above to see how to prepare the loose or baby artichokes yourself. Once practiced, the process is easy and the resulting possibilities are endless. Simply prepare as many of the buds as you would like to cook and then follow one of the recipes below to marinate them.

The large types of artichoke can be extremely thorny or nearly free of thorns. If the spikes make you nervous, look for the more globe-like varieties as they will be less likely to poke you.

Now, if the work involved in preparing these beauties is what is putting you off, allow me to show you a couple of easy approaches.

The first approach, featured in the videos above, is to lop off the tips of the leaves and then cut the stem just flush with the base of the artichoke. For steaming California style, this is all you have to do. Follow the recipe below to provide yourself with all the peel, dip and bite fun you can handle. If you have loftier goals, you can prepare the artichokes in one of the manners I demonstrate. 

I love to roast a whole artichoke bottom and fill it with crab fresh out of our ocean. Nowhere else on earth can you enjoy a just-harvested artichoke with freshly caught and cracked dungeness crab. Together, with spot prawns, dungeness are the most prized of all the shellfish bounty available to northern California. Look for my upcoming recipe for crab-stuffed artichokes now that crabbing season has started.

Prepared artichoke bottoms can also be used as ingredients in pastas and other preparations. Just slice or dice and sate or roast them and they are ready to go. Recipe number four this week lays out the basics.

Following are two marinades for baby or loose artichokes:

Old-style Boiled

Prepare artichokes for cooking according to video.

Ingredients you will need:

-1 1/2 cup water

-1/2 cup your favorite herb vinaigrette

Put water and vinaigrette in a sauce pot big enough to hold your artichokes and the liquids. If the liquids do not quite cover the artichokes, just add a bit of water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the artichokes are just tender. The key piece of this is to allow the artichokes to cool in the liquid providing an opportunity for the process of forced marination to take place. As the hot item cools it absorbs the flavors and nuances of the marinade. 

Sautéed and Marinated 

Prepare the artichokes according to the video.

Ingredients you will need:

-2 tablespoons of olive oil

-1/2 cup of your favorite herb vinaigrette

Quarter the artichokes.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and sauté the artichokes until golden and just tender. 

While still hot, toss the artichokes in the vinaigrette so they absorb the flavor as they cool.

Steamed Large Artichokes

Ingredients you will need:

-4-6 large artichokes with leaves and stem trimmed

- 1 lemon, quartered

-1/4 cup white wine (optional)

- 1 bay leaf

-6 garlic cloves

-2-3 cups water. Water should come almost half way up the artichokes.

Place artichokes leaf side down in a pot large enough to hold them but small enough that they do not roll around. Add other ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. At 15 minutes turn the artichokes so they are stem side down and steam another 10 to 15 minutes. At this point, pierce the stem side with a paring knife. If the knife slides right in, they are done. If they are still a little tough continue steaming until tender. 

Serve with mayonnaise, aioli or any other creamy style dressing you enjoy.

Artichoke Bottoms for Stuffing

Ingredients you will need:

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-As many artichoke bottoms as you would like, prepared according to the video.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet that can go into the oven. 

Brown the scooped out side of the artichoke bottom until just golden. Turn the artichoke bottoms over and place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until tender when poked with a paring knife.

Artichoke Bottoms for Pasta or other recipes

Just prepare the artichoke bottoms according to the video, cut to desired shape and add to any recipe at the point you are adding other vegetables. They are great in soups, pastas and just as a vegetable side dish.

Watch after Thanksgiving for a crab recipe featuring the roasted artichoke bottoms.

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