Food Dude: Learning to love artichokes

The Food Dude got an up-close and personal look at artichokes.

Artichokes are revered around the globe, but Oklahomans view the edible flower blossom with collective suspicion.

Data is scarce, but the phrase “Okie-dokie, artichokie” might have something to do with it. People from Oklahoma can call each other Okies, but others aren’t allowed — especially those from northern Califormia. And it so happens the vast majority of commercial artichokes in the U.S. hail from John Steinbeck country.

Will Rogers claimed he never met anyone he didn’t like, but he never went on the record about artichokes.

But artichokes have more in common with Oklahomans than you might think: Artichokes are soft and supple at heart but wear armor openly.

And they’re shaped a little like a football.

Once I got to know artichokes a little more intimately on a trip to California’s Salinas Valley earlier this year, I was inspired to preach the gospel on behalf of them for their health benefits and surprising versatility.

Bear with me, trips to places like the Salinas Valley are transformative. A visit to America’s salad bowl is apt to make the most carnivorous among us look more fondly upon a fresh vegetable or berry. A drive through the miles and miles of lettuce rows, hillside vineyards and avocado groves, strawberry patches, broccoli fields and artichoke farms is all you need to understand Steinbeck’s propensity to romanticize.

Whomever the first person was to proclaim a place “God’s Country” very likely stood within a shout of the Salinas River. The Napa Valley might offer broader tourist attractions, but Mother Nature never birthed a more lovely living testimony to practicality than the Salinas.

A trip to Castroville’s Ocean Mist Farms put me square in the center of a sea of green thistles 4 to 5 feet tall. Artichoke stalks grow from a crown at ground-level. Each stalk is topped by a globe that will eventually flower. Unlike many crops, artichokes must be picked by hand.

“The stalks don’t grow at the same rate,” said Pat Hopper, manager of the Artichoke Advisory Board in Castroville. “And the human eye is still the only way to determine if an artichoke is ready for harvest.”

Hopper said short stalks will produce Dwarf Artichokes, which are commonly fried and eaten whole. Pezznini Farms, also in Castroville, even boasts a fried arthichoke food truck.

Castroville is home to 75 percent of the country’s commercial artichoke crop. At Ocean Mist Farms, artichokes are cut from the stalk with a small knife, leaving an edible portion of stem. Harvesters then toss the ’chokes over their shoulders into canastas worn on the back. A full canasta can weigh up to 100 pounds in the spring when the artichokes are at their heaviest. Once the canasta is full, the artichokes are taken to a field-pack machine where they are unloaded and sorted by size into standard cartons. Cartons are then transported to refrigerated storage.

Heirloom artichokes are the original variety brought to California in the early 1900s by Italian immigrants. Long-time artichoke growers refer to an Heirloom artichoke as the classic Green Globe variety. It is the variety the U.S. fresh artichoke industry was built upon and until about the 1990’s was the only variety being commercially grown.

In the last quarter century, artichoke growers have developed varieties that mimic the characteristics of the Heirloom variety and grow in the multiple micro-climates from seed.

That means artichokes are more plentiful and more cost-effective than ever.

Hopper said all you really have to do to make artichokes is put them in a pot of boiling water. Add garlic, lemon juice or herbs if you like, then steam or boil them until petals pull free easily — 30 to 45 minutes.

“While the artichoke is cooking it gives you plenty of time to enjoy a glass of wine,” Hopper said on behalf of another of California’s top exports.

Hopper said artichokes are popular with kids because they are playful.

“Kids love the petals,” she said. “Because you put them in your mouth and take them

back out.”

Hopper said artichokes really are an experience.

“They’re not your everyday ‘inhale your food’ ingredient,” she said. “You take your time with artichokes.”

Hopper said artichokes are as healthy as they are delicious. Artichokes contain phytonutrients, plant compounds that have antioxidant properties and promote human health. They are an excellent source of fiber, and are packed with nutrients.

Hopper’s last bit of testimony was aimed at adults.

“Artichokes are a great aphrodisiac,” she said.

The locally annointed Artichoke Queen might’ve been confused why I quit asking questions. It was because I was busy scrubbing and cleaning artichokes.

But rather than fumble through my first artichoke-cooking experience,

Transforming thistles

I turned to six local chefs for advice on how to transform these thistles into composed dishes.

I recruited chefs Jonathon Stranger, of Ludivine; Leo Novak, of The Viceroy Grille; Henry Boudreaux, of The Museum Cafe; Kurt Fleischfresser, of Vast; David Henry, of The Coach House, and Chris McCabe, of A Good Egg Dining group.

Stranger made confit of artichoke with sunchoke puree and demi with some grilled beef tenderloin. He used the leaves to build a stock that was used to make the sun choke a demi glace.

Fleishfresser showed us, in detail, how to trim an artichoke before slicing the heart into mushroom-like slices that he sauteed in olive oil and butter with some herbs and served over pasta with grape tomatoes, onions and garlic and a creamy pan sauce.

Henry blanched his artichokes, sauteed the hearts, and made an artichoke-celery puree with parmigianno reggiano. He blanched the artichokes following a classic technique storing the choke in water and flour then flavoring the blanching liquid with lemon juice, thyme, bay leaf, red pepper flakes. He served his sauteed hearts and puree with fork-tender salmon cooked in a circulator and fried capers.

Boudreaux spent five months working in Italy, which inspired him to serve the artichoke as it is served in northern Italy — whole. Boudreaux said his experience having to pluck fresh vegetables, like artichokes, from the field to use in the restaurant where he worked instilled a profound respect of ingredients.

“I wanted to keep the integrity of the artichokes integrit,” he said. “I wanted people to know they’re eating an artichoke.”

He poached his ’choke in lemon, marjoram, butter, olive oil and garlic. After straining the whole ingredients, he he added vegetable stock to the poaching liquid and reduced it down before adding some cream to thicken it. He plated the whole artichoke in the sauce with some fresh mint and basil, Manchego cheese, a touch of truffle oil and black salt.

Novak did a classic French interpretation of sauteed artichoke hearts with golden chantarelle mushroom, white asparagus, Hollandaise sauce topped with peas and fried quail eggs.

McCabe, who grew up on the East Coast, had perhaps the most experience with the vegetable. He said he grew up eating his grandmother’s stuffed artichokes regularly. Working out of Kitchen No. 324, McCabe made seared halibut with truffle-artichoke puree, fried artichoke hearts, anchovy butter and BrusselKale (a kale-Brussels sprout hybrid).

If their dishes sound more intimidating than picking and peeling an artichoke, never fear: I have included some simple recipes below. As with most things, start

simple and build on your experiences so eventually you can unleash your creativity to make art of a ’choke.

Artichoke Roman style

This is a simplified version of what chef Henry Boudreaux did.

4 large California artichokes

1 lemon, cut in half

Coarse salt to taste

¼ cup (OR 1 tablespoon dried) fresh mint leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

½ cup olive oil, divided

Wash artichokes; remove outer leaves until pale yellow leaves are exposed.

Cut off top two inches and stems so artichokes will sit upright. Remove fuzzy centers and rub all surfaces with half of lemon.

Add juice of remaining lemon to water and dip artichokes to preserve green color.

Mix mint and garlic with ¼ cup olive oil and spoon into hollows of artichokes.

Place in pan just large enough to hold them upright.

Add water to depth of three inches, remaining olive oil and salt to taste.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 25 minutes or until just tender. Cooking

will vary with size of artichokes.

Remove artichokes, drain and hold warm.

Reduce cooking liquid until of a syrupy consistency. Spoon sauce over artichokes and serve.

Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Grilled artichokes

This recipe is perfect for the lazy cook, since all preparation can be done the previous day. The slightly smoky taste compliments the nuttiness of the artichoke and no dip is necessary, although some might want to use additional marinade for dipping.

4 large artichokes

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup water

¼ cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon minced ginger

¼ cup olive oil

Slice artichoke tops off, crosswise. Trim stems.

Boil or steam artichokes until bottoms pierce easily, or a petal pulls off easily.

Drain artichokes. Cool.

Cut each artichoke in half lengthwise and scrape out fuzzy center and any purple tipped petals.

Mix remaining ingredients in a large plastic bag. Place artichokes in the bag and coat all sides of the artichokes. For best flavor marinate in the mixture overnight in the refrigerator but should marinate at least one hour.

Drain artichokes.

Place cut side down on a grill over a solid bed of medium coals or gas grill on medium. Grill until lightly browned on the cut side, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn artichokes over and drizzle some of the remaining marinade over the artichokes.

Grill until petal tips are lightly charred, 3 to 4 minutes more.

Serve hot or room temperature

Yield: 8 servings, ½ artichoke each.

Casanova’s Appassionata dip

This is a dish to share with someone special. Get rid of your knives and forks and start the evening with finger food, an artichoke with a delicious dip.

½ cup sour cream

½ cup mayonnaise

1½ tablespoons chopped chives

1 tbsp prepared horseradish

½ teaspoon salt

chopped chives, garnish

In a bowl, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, chives, horseradish and salt; chill.

Garnish with additional chives. Serve with steamed artichoke(s).

To prepare artichokes, wash and trim stem so artichoke stands upright.

Cut off top quarter of artichoke; if desired, snip tips off remaining petals with kitchen scissors.

Stand prepared artichoke in deep saucepan or pot with 3 inches of boiling water. Oil, lemon juice, and seasonings may be added to cooking water, if desired.

Cover and boil gently, checking water level occasionally, 25 to 40 minutes depending upon size or until a petal near the center pulls out easily.

SOURCE: California Artichoke Advisory Board

Pan-seared halibut with crispy artichokes

1 8-ounce Halibut filet

2 ounces thinly sliced black radish

1/4 cup artichoke puree, recipe below

1 ounce anchovy butter, recipe below

1/4 cup BrusselKale

Radish microgreens for garnish

Shingle radish on top of halibut filet and season with salt and pepper. Heat a saute pan to medium-high heat and add an ounce of oil. Sear filet radish-side down until brown.

Fry artichoke hearts and BrusselKale in oil. Flip halibut and brown other side.

To plate, smear artichoke puree on plate, top with fried BrusselKale and artichoke hearts. Smear anchovy butter on plate and top with cooked halibut, radish side up.

Garnish with microgreens.

Anchovy butter

2.5 ounces anchovies

1 pound softened unsalted butter

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon Colman’s mustard powder

Pinch ground coriander

Pinch fresh ground black pepper

Combine ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Artichoke puree

5 large artichokes, cleaned, peeled, sliced with stems

8 cloves garlic, sliced

1 shallot, sliced

11/2 cups white wine

1 quart chicken stock

2 cups heavy cream

1 ounce truffle oil

1 tablespoon cooking oil

Spash of white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

Sweat artichoke with garlic and shallots in 1 tablespoon oil. Increase heat to high, then deglaze pan with white wine. Add half the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to simmer and cook until the stock has cooked off then add remaining stock and repeat. Reduce the stock au sec, meaning until most of the liquid has cooked off. Add the cream and reduce at a low simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a food processor and puree, adding the truffle oil now. Pass the puree through a fine-mesh sieve or tamis.

Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

SOURCE: Chris McCabe, A Good Egg Dining Group

Preparing and cooking artichoke bottoms

Break off the stem of the artichoke. Pull the bottom leaves from the artichoke until all that remains is the soft cone.

Trim any remaining green parts. Cut off the soft cone, leaving only the choke behind. Rub the base well with a cut lemon half to prevent discoloration.

Trim the base to an even round shape, slightly flattened at the base, and bevel the top edge. Rub again with the lemon and drop into a bowl of cold water with lemons.

Fill a sauce pan with enough water to simmer the bottoms. Season the water with salt and one quartered lemon. Simmer the artichokes until tender, 25 to 45 minutes until tender, then drain and remove the choke with a teaspoon.

Artichokes Clamart

2 artichoke bottoms, cooked

2 ounces chanterelle mushrooms

2 ounces white asparagus

1/2 cups green peas

1 teaspoon minced garlic

four quail eggs

1 cups Hollandaise sauce

white wine to deglaze

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat a small saucepan to medium heat and add butter butter. Saute mushrooms, garlic and white asparagus. Deglaze with white wine add cooked artichoke bottom and simmer. Add peas to garnish. Fry quail eggs sunny side up. Plate with hollandaise sauce.

SOURCE: Chef Leonard Novak, The Viceroy Grille

by Dave Cathey