Eating local food is all well and good if you live in a fertile area with the weather to support diverse crops, but it’s a cruel dogma to impose too strictly on those in less abundant locales. Along with avocados, the one item this Californian-turned-Northeasterner can’t bear to forsake is artichokes, which are now in season. Virtually all American artichokes are grown in my former home state, with the majority clustered along the central coast. As attractive as the California poppy is, I would have to choose the artichoke as its replacement for state flower—that’s what it is, a type of thistle that is harvested at the bud stage.
Artichokes have a nutty flavor and starchy texture, with a slightly sweet aftertaste that can transfer to foods you eat afterward. They’re a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate, magnesium and potassium. Part of the fun of eating a whole artichoke (steamed for about a half hour) is peeling off each leaf and scraping off the meaty flesh between your teeth until you reach the best bit—the heart. Butter or mayonnaise are simple, traditional and perfectly acceptable accompaniments, but why stop there? Here are five other ideas:
1. Dip it. You can kick your mayo up a notch with lemon juice, Dijon and Worcestershire, as cookthink recommends. The fancier French version of mayonnaise, aioli, gets further gussied up with Meyer lemon and saffron at Chow. Or skip the egg entirely—sharp and salty flavors like anchovies, capers, vinegar and tarragon are a good match in a salsa verde from Bon Appétit.
2. Grill it or roast it. Though steaming artichokes keeps them succulent, grilling adds smokiness and roasting concentrates their nutty and sweet flavors. Cooking for Engineers offers step-by-step grilling instructions, with a bonus tutorial on eating the globes and even proper nomenclature for the leaves, which are actually called “brachts.” I did not know that. For roasting instructions see the Chow recipe in #1.
3. Braise it. The most delicious artichoke dish I’ve ever had (and this is saying a lot) was probably the braised artichoke hearts in lemon juice that I had many years ago in Crete. This recipe adapted from Gourmet by Deb at Smitten Kitchen—who shares both my love for artichokes and lament at their non-localness—sounds pretty close. Or maybe it was more like this one, from Alice Waters via Orangette.
4. Stuff it. Save your guests the task of dipping each leaf—I mean bracht—individually by stuffing them with seasoned bread crumbs, curry-flavored couscous, or with minced meat and pine nuts, Lebanese-style.
5. Fry it. It’s not a surprise that both the winner and the runner-up in the artichoke recipe contest at Food52 were for fried artichokes (breaded hearts in the former, whole baby artichokes in the latter). It’s like one of those syllogisms you learned in logic class: Artichokes are delicious. Frying makes most foods taste even better. Therefore, fried artichokes are ridiculously delicious.
For even more ideas, swing by the Castroville Artichoke Festival, May 21 to 22, in Monterey County, California.