Saturday, August 14, 2010
Artichokes from Castroville
If you happen to find yourself in Castroville, a small agricultural town off Hwy 1 south of Santa Cruz, you'd be in the artichoke capital of the world - and what a lovely place to be!
Artichokes have a mild flavor that goes well in a variety of preparations. You can dip their leaves in different sauces from melted butter to flavored mayonnaise to a nicely emulsified balsamic vinaigrette. You can stuff them or make a casserole with them.
In summer, I like to grill artichokes to imbue them with a subtle smoky flavor. They're easy to grill, especially if you par-boil them first. Trim the woody stem and tough bottom leaves. Then snip the sharp tips off each leaf using a kitchen scissors. Rub the entire artichoke with lemon juice to prevent browning and pop it in a pot with water. I like to add a little lemon to the water, too.
Bring the water to a boil and cook for about 15-20 minutes, depending on size. The artichoke bottom will still be firm when tested with a long toothpick or skewer. Remove from the water. When cool enough to handle, cut the artichoke in half, rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and finish cooking on the grill, turning it periodically to prevent burning. The artichoke is done when the bottom is tender.
I think grilled artichokes need very little embellishment, but use whatever condiments or dipping sauces appeal to you. Remember to cut away and discard (or compost) the choke after eating the leaves. Then you'll be rewarded with the tender bottom, or heart, to savor.