One of my fondest memories of living in Northern California is traveling on Highway One. it was a relatively short trip over the Santa Cruz Mountains to arrive in the town of Half Moon Bay. There you hit Highway 1. Two lanes in many places with breathtaking views, this road runs off and on along the coast of California. Head north, and you’d wind up in San Francisco with all its iconic city sights. but if you turned left and headed south, an entirely different adventure awaited.
Highway 1 heading south would take you to ruggedly beautiful beaches that were the perfect place for family adventures…There were walls of rock that were fun to climb… There was plenty of sand and not a lot of people…and for the young and brave of heart, surf to frolic in.
The coast is also the gateway to some amazing farmland. If the jaw-dropping coastline gets boring (if that is possible), the other side of the road offers interesting agricultural views. From cattle to Christmas trees, Brussels spouts to artichokes, the variety is astounding. I can remember the first time i saw an artichoke field. Seeing the beautiful green globes perched atop their ruffled thrones made me love them even more.
The Central California Coast is artichoke country. In fact, virtually all artichokes come from here. The area is ideally suited to this beautifully edible thistle. Cool summers and mild winters make for happy artichokes. Castroville the self proclaimed “Artichoke Center of the World”, is home to nearly 2/3 of all artichokes. There’s even an Artichoke Festival held there. The season by the way, has just begun and will run through June. With luck the quality and price in stores will be better.
Artichokes are an amazingly delicious vegetable. They also hold romantic memories for me. One of the first meals I shared with my husband when we were dating included artichokes that we dipped in butter. That is still my favorite way to prepare and eat artichokes. My children grew up eating artichokes. So did my grandson. In fact, they are on almost every “special dinner” menu. in our family.
I’ve found the easiest way to prepare them for eating whole is in the microwave. Cut the stems off even with the bottom so they will sit up when served and cut about 1/2 inch off the tops Use a scissors to snip off the pointy tips of the leaves. Wash then well and they are ready to cook.
Place the artichokes in a microwave safe shallow dish (pie or quiche pans work well). Put water in the pan about a half an inch up on the artichoke. Squeeze half a lemon over the artichokes to flavor and preserve the color. Add 3 smashed garlic cloves, the squeezed lemon, and drizzle it all with a little olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 18 minutes or until the bottoms feel soft,
Eating an artichoke is a process. Every leaf has a tender bit on the end waiting to be Scraped off with your teeth. Dipping it in butter or the sauce of your choice adds another level of flavor. The coolest thing about the artichoke is that the tender bit on the leaves get bigger and better as you get closer to the heart. Oh, and the heart is so worth the wait. Protected by its choke, once exposed is pure heaven on the tongue.
Artichoke season is short, but you can enjoy artichokes year round. The hearts come in cans, jars, and frozen. While not quite the experience of eating them whole, they are very versatile. Everyone loves Spinach and Artichoke dip. It’s become an institution. I’ve taken those two flavors and come up with a soup that is satisfying and healthy. Simple ingredients combine to make a satisfying soup.
A perfect supper that is much lower in fat than the decadent dip it’s based on.
The time is right for giving artichokes a try. I know that once you try them they will be part of your spring vegetable parade every year. Love, Mama D