I seek in anonymity's cloisters
by Ogden Nash
ALL ABOUT CALIFORNIA ARTICHOKES
One of the oldest foods known to us, artichokes were first cultivated for food in the Mediterranean basin thousands of years ago. Early plantings were made in the U.S. by French settlers in Louisiana and by the Spanish in the mid-coastal areas of California. Most of today's artichokes come from the coastal areas of California where they hold the title of "The Official Vegetable of Monterey County". Castroville, California is the self-proclaimed Artichoke Center of the World as three-fourths of all California artichokes are grown in this area.
When to Buy the Best
You'll find artichokes in most markets year-round. However, their peak season is in the Spring -- March, April and May. In November through February artichokes are "winter-kissed" -- touched by frost and colored a light bronze to brown on the outer leaves. These are often considered to be premier artichokes as frost tends to enhance the nutty flavor of artichokes. Avoid any artichokes that are soft and wilting, dry looking or moldy.
How to Buy the Best
Choose artichokes that are heavy for their size, and feel compact and firm in the winter and spring. In the summer and fall, artichokes will be somewhat flared and conical. Artichokes come in small, medium and large and are all mature. They are also sized by the number of artichokes that fit into a case (12, 18, 24, 30, 36, 48, 60, 72)
How to Store
An artichoke will look and taste fresh for up to a week if handled properly. Do not wash before storing. To keep longer than a few days, drizzle a few drops of water on each artichoke, place in a plastic bag, seal airtight and refrigerate.
How to Prepare Artichokes for Cooking
Whole medium or large artichokes: wash under running water. Pull off lower outer petals; cut stem so artichoke stands upright. With a sharp chef's knife, cut 1/4 to 1/3 off the top of each artichoke. Snip off tips of remaining petals with kitchen shears. Rub all cut surfaces immediately with fresh lemon juice. The inedible choke and purple-ish leaves in the center can be removed before or after cooking. Spread the center of the artichoke as far as you can and using a melon baller or small spoon, remove the center leaves down to the fuzzy choke. After cooking, allow artichokes to cool before removing the center leaves and choke.
Boil: Stand prepared artichoke in deep saucepan with 3 inches of boiling water. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, juice of one lemon, fresh herbs to the cooking water. Cover and boil gently 25 to 40 minutes depending on their size. When a petal near the center pulls out easily, the artichoke is cooked. Stand artichokes upside down on paper towel to drain. When cool enough to handle, gently pull aside center petals and scrape out the purple colored leaves and the fuzzy center (choke) and discard. Artichoke is now ready to be stuffed or drizzled with your favorite vinaigrette.
Steam: Place prepared artichoke on rack about boiling water. Cover and steam 25 to 40 minutes, depending on size or until a petal near the center pulls out easily.
Microwave: Place prepared artichokes in a deep microwave-safe bowl. Add water (see chart below) cover and micro-cook at HIGH (100% power) Give dish a quarter turn halfway through the cooking time if your microwave doesn't have a turntable. Let stand 5 minutes after cooking time. When done, a petal near the center of the artichoke will pull out easily.
Microwave Timing Chart
A 12 ounce artichoke has approximately 2 ounces of plain edible portion:
Prepare and cook artichokes as directed. Let cool to room temperature. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl and blend well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if desired. Reserve sauce until serving time. Spoon some sauce into the center of each artichoke and put the remaining sauce on each serving plate along with the artichoke in a small bowl. Yield: 4 servings
PASTA WITH ARTICHOKE HEARTS AND MUSHROOMS
1 can artichoke hearts in brine, drained
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
10 ounces mixed fresh mushrooms (crimini, shiitake or others)
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
2 T. finely minced fresh Italian parsley
8 ounces pasta (fettuccine or linguine)*
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Place a large heavy skillet over medium heat and add 3 T. of oil. Sauté garlic a few seconds. Add artichoke hearts and sauté a few minutes until lightly browned. Remove artichokes from skillet.
Add another Tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add mushrooms and sauté over high heat until lightly browned. Add the white wine. Remove the pan from the heat and add the artichokes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and remaining oil.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta. Drain pasta and add to skillet with mushroom mixture over a low heat. Toss to combine until heated through. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with grated Parmesan. Yield: 2 servings
*If using 1 lb of pasta for four servings, double the ingredients for the sauce.
fresh artichokes, prepared for cooking (see above directions)
Place prepared artichokes in a microwave proof bowl with 1 cup of water and several slices of lemon. Cover with paper towel and cook on High for approximately 10 minutes. Artichokes will continue to cook in the oven. Drain and reserve the water.
Meanwhile, combine fresh breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, parsley, prosciutto and garlic in a small mixing bowl. Drizzle on olive oil to moisten the crumb mixture. Season with salt & pepper.
Stuff each artichoke center and in between the leaves with the breadcrumb stuffing. Place the stuffed artichokes in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Add the reserved water to the baking pan. Cover the dish loosely with foil and bake in a heated oven (350°F) for 20 minutes. Transfer baked artichokes to a serving tray and serve at room temperature.
Yield: 4 servings