Not exactly an elegant choice, the humble artichoke, which is basically just a thistle, has a strange mystique that keeps us going back for more, to triumph over a scant bit of tooth-scraped pulp. So just what is it about the vegetable that has us paying whatever price is asked at the grocery store?
There are plenty of reasons not to love artichokes. They require work to get results. Pointy barbs prick your fingers. One by one, unsightly leaves gather on the plate. Cook them too long, they get mushy; too short, they are inedible. And artichokes beg for an accompanying sauce. But love them we do, and we eat them by the megatons.
Since there are many tons more artichokes grown in countries along the Mediterranean, the Castroville title, “Artichoke Capitol of the World,” perhaps alludes to its spirit and its history—and to its annual artichoke festival. Also, John Steinbeck’s story, Johnny Bear, was set in Castroville, and Marilyn Monroe was Castroville’s 1948 Artichoke Queen. Though artichokes are harvested nearly all year, peak season is March through May. California produces almost 100% of the nation’s artichokes, mostly grown by Ocean Mist Farms. Plus it’s the State Vegetable.
Artichoke lovers, set your calendars now, because you won’t want to miss the 60th Annual Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival, June 1 and 2 at the Monterey County Fair & Event Center in Monterey. Going way beyond live music, which is abundant, the festival offers a wine, beer and spirits garden, family entertainment, kid zone, field tours, farmers market, chef demos, 5K beach run, an agro-art competition and, of course, artichoke-inspired food, from artichoke cupcakes to artichoke burritos.
General admission to the festival is $15 for adults (13+), $5 for children 6-12, seniors (62+) and military personnel $10 with ID. Family packs, “It’s a Date,” tastings and field tour tickets are available. For more information visit artichokefestival.org/tickets.
- Castroville has the nation's only artichoke processing plant
- An artichoke plant is good for five to 10 years of production
- According to Californiacountry.org, artichokes are healthy: 65 calories per serving, more antioxidants than red wine or chocolate, provides 20percent of an adult's vitamin C requirement and 24 percent of recommended dietary fiber. It's high in potassium and magnesium, has 4 grams of protein and contains no fat.
- The artichoke is technically a flower bud that has not yet bloomed
- One artichoke plant can produce up to 20 artichokes per year
Artichokes can be steamed, boiled, sautéed, baked, grilled or microwaved. Try rubbing lemon on the artichoke before cooking, for flavor and to prevent browning. Here are two recipes to get you started on a new culinary adventure.
Grilled Artichokes with Caper Aioli
4 large artichokes
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. capers
1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
Rinse artichokes under cold water. With a sharp knife, cut about 1 inch from the top of the artichoke. If desired, use kitchen shears to clip the thorns from the outer layer. Trim stems. Add 2 tbsp. salt to a large pot of boiling water and submerge artichokes for 20 to 25 minutes or until leaves become soft. Remove from hot water and place in a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process.
Drain artichokes. Cut in half from top to bottom and remove the center choke with a spoon. Toss artichoke halves with 1 tbsp. olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place on a grill over medium heat and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from grill and toss with a mixture of parsley, Parmesan, garlic, lemon juice, 1 tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a serving tray and serve with aioli.
Aioli: Place mayonnaise, capers, anchovy paste, lemon juice and parsley in a small bowl and whisk until incorporated.
Stuffed, Whole Artichokes
Recipe by Margaret Bowles
1½ Cups breadcrumbs
1 Small clove garlic, minced
¼ Cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Snip the tips off of leaves with scissors. Rinse the artichokes under cold water and drain. Cut artichokes in half. Combine the breadcrumbs, garlic, cheese, salt & pepper and olive oil in a mixing bowl. Stuff the mixture into the leaves of the artichokes.
Place a steamer at the bottom of a pot that will hold the four artichokes upright. Add water to the top of a basic metal steamer, about 2 inches. Bring water to a boil; then reduce heat to medium or medium low. Put the artichokes on the steamer, stem-side down, and cover. Check water level after 15 minutes, adding hot water if needed. Check leaves at 30 minutes, and 10 minutes thereafter until not quite done. Drain artichokes and let cool on a plate. Cut in half from top to bottom and remove the center choke with a spoon. Serve with a simple mixture of olive oil, salt & pepper and lemon juice.