The Secret to A Really Good Artichoke (RECIPE)

September 14, 2010 § 4 Comments

Do you have a food that everyone around you seems to love, but you’ve never quite figured out what the fuss is all about? Artichokes had been that food for me. Until I ate one from the plant I’ve been growing in our backyard and steamed it in an herby, lemony, wine-enhanced broth.

Growing up in a Midwestern town best known for its state penitentiary, where the fields surrounding us grew corn, artichokes didn’t loom large in our daily diet. In fact, although my mother always cooked fresh foods from scratch when I was growing up, I can’t remember ever eating a fresh artichoke; the only artichokes I ever had came from a can, mixed with sour cream and cheese and baked into a dip, at other people’s parties.

When I moved to California, everyone really seemed to dig artichokes. While I liked them, they seemed to be more of a foil for the mayonnaise-based dipping sauce usually served alongside.

But as I’ve written about before, I was seeking veggies to plant this spring that would thrive in our cold, foggy S.F. backyard of clay soil. My neighbor — who’s awesome and also into gardening — advised me to try artichokes. At her invitation, I clambered up onto the fence to peer at hers, which had flourished in just a year and produced enough artichokes for her family of four. Plus, the fountain of muted gray-green, serrated leaves offered a cool aesthetic touch to the garden.

Well, my neighbor was right! In just three months, the artichokes grew from these small seedlings…

Baby artichoke plant

…to these giant fronds.

Adult artichokes

And in the fourth month, a bud had grown large enough for harvest. In hindsight, I think I was over-eager to pick it, as it was relatively small and didn’t have a lot of flesh to scrape off the petals with your teeth. But the artichoke heart was the best I’ve ever eaten — a sweet, nutty flavor and nearly custard-like texture, unlike any artichoke I’ve had.

The following recipe from the Food Network further enhanced the taste. Enjoy!


REALLY GOOD STEAMED ARTICHOKES: See the recipe and serving notes here. (*Note: I used the water vs. the chicken broth, and they turned out really tasty.)

Serves: 2-4

Total Time: 40 minutes. Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 30 minutes


Artichoke Fun Facts

  • Artichokes are one of the oldest foods known to man. Zeus was said to have turned a scorned lover into an artichoke.
  • Technically, artichokes are flowers (edible thistles of the sunflower family). They’re native to the Mediterranean and were carried to California in the 1880s by Italian immigrants.
  • One hundred percent of all artichokes grown commercially in the United States are grown in California.
  • In 1948, a young Marilyn Monroe (then Norma Jean) was crowned Castroville, California’s first “Artichoke Queen”.
  • Artichokes are a significant source of vitamin C, folic acid and magnesium. Virtually fat-free, the artichoke weighs in at 25 calories (per medium artichoke) and is low in sodium.

When It’s in Season in California

  • March through June
  • September through December

Where to Buy & How to Store Local Ingredients

  • You can find locally grown artichokes at Canyon Market, RainbowWhole Foods and Safeway. I saw some gorgeous ones at Whole Foods this week. They’re also starting to appear at farmers’ markets in S.F.; last week I saw some with a sign that said, “Ugly but tasty!”

How to Choose & Store

  • Look for ones that feel heavy for their size; that have leaves that are dark to acid green without any browning or dryness; and that are tightly closed at the tip. Artichokes lose moisture quickly after harvesting, so eat them as soon as you can after buying. If you do need to store them, slip them into a plastic bag and keep in the veggie bin of your fridge for no more than a few days.

How to Grow Your Own Ingredients

  • As I’ve mentioned, artichokes are made for the S.F. climate, so you’re in luck if you live here. They do take up a lot of space, though; they are 3-4 feet high and wide and need 6 hours of full sun daily. The ideal time to plant is in late summer to fall, with winter next best, though you can plant them whenever the seedlings are available (I planted mine in the spring). I found a high-quality seedling at Sloat Garden Center.

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