I love Mediterranean style cooking. The food is always fresh, never too heavy in sauces, you can taste each individual item, it’s almost always lean…hummm. Among the vegetables used in Mediterranean cuisine, the artichoke is one of my favorite. They are beautiful plants. I’ve seen them planted as decorations in gardens here in California. The leaves are greenish gray and when left to mature the artichoke produces a beautiful purple flower that looks just like an oversized thistle. They look alike for a reason: both the artichoke and the thistle are members of the same family of plants. Isn’t that neat?
Fresh artichokes filled every Greek market that I used to shop at back in the day when I lived in Astoria, NY. A few years ago, shortly after moving to the West Coast, we went on a driving trip along the Pacific to Big Sur. We ended up traveling through miles and miles of artichoke fields somewhere near Santa Cruz. They were breathtakingly beautiful. Steven imagined that those plants looked pre-historic because of their unusual coloring, the shape of the leaves, the long thorns and the actual artichokes themselves, sticking incongruously, almost menacingly, up in the air like primitive weapons. Well, maybe the fog was confounding his vision. I’ve heard that California produces 90% of the artichokes consumed in America, and that most of them come from that area.
A-ha! So this was where my “Greek” artichokes had been growing all along!
While passing by these romantic artichoke fields, we suddenly had the urge to indulge our taste buds with some of these incredible flower buds. Luckily the area caters to all things artichoke, so we had no problem finding the perfect place. Almost perfect, anyway: the only way they made them was deep… no, deeply fried….served with their popular aioli sauce on the side. I don’t normally go for fried food (well, sometimes ;)) but here we were in the Mystical, Misty Land of Artichokes! How could we pass on this rare opportunity? We ordered a couple servings and just devoured them almost instantly. The Mexican beer that we ordered was excellent, too!
I never tried frying artichokes at home. Maybe I should sometime…?
Last week I found a perfect box of baby artichokes at Trader Joe’s. They were very fresh with a deep olive green color that turned a little purplish at the base and on the stems. They’re easy to make the way I prepared them though cleaning the things is a pain and a lot of laborious work!
To clean artichokes:
Rinse baby artichokes in cold water. Using your fingers, remove about 3 to 4 layers of the outer leaves. Then cut about ½ of artichoke top off. Using a potato peeler, shave the rough outer layer off the stem and base. Don’t cut the stems off! These taste great and make the finished dish look much more interesting and exotic. Cut the very tip of the stem off. Then split artichoke in half cutting it lengthwise (from stem through the crown of the bud.) Carve the choke (the hairy/spiny center) out with a spoon or a sharp paring knife. Immediately toss prepared artichoke into a large bowl filled with cold water and the juice of a lemon along with the squeezed lemon peel itself. This will keep the artichoke from turning brown. Repeat with all artichokes. You see, a lot of painful and laborious work.
Fresh Baby Artichokes for Dinner
12 to 15 baby artichokes prepared as above, rinsed
3 cloves of garlic, cut into fine slivers
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 spring onions, chopped coarsely
2-3 tbsp water for steaming
½ bunch Italian parsley, chopped roughly
3 sprigs of fresh oregano, stems removed
1 tbsp Spanish capers with 1 tbsp caper brine
5 Spanish stuffed olives, cut into rounds
fresh black pepper
red chili pepper flakes
3 tsp olive oil
a few slivers of peeled Parmigiano-reggiano cheese (cut with potato peeler) or 2 tbsp grated. Spend a little more cashola on this! There’s no substitute.
1-heat olive oil in frying pan on high heat. Add onion, sauté for a couple of minutes, then add garlic and further sauté for another couple of minutes. Toss in artichokes. Sprinkle with salt. Add spring onion followed by a couple of tbsp of water. Cover the pan and let artichokes cook till al dente, about 5 minutes. Add Italian parsley, oregano, capers with brine, olives, pepper flakes and fresh pepper. Adjust salt. Transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle with a bit more of olive oil; add cheese to the top and serve! It goes well with red or white wine. Bon appétit!