Our artichoke plants (we have three very small beds-full) have grown to gargantuan proportions. Two of them are about six feet tall, and another is extremely wide rather than tall (I guess I planted different varieties, though at the time I didn’t write the names down. Reminder: Keep good records!). Some have already gotten so large that we will eat them the usual way, but there are also a lot of baby artichokes, only two inches or so. These can be eaten whole. There are a lot of benefits to eating them this young: Less waste (we of course compost anything we don’t eat, but when they are small, you can eat a lot more of the flower bud than you can when they are older and tougher), and a lovely tenderness, but the best benefit of all…. no earwigs! Or maybe only a few….. our artichokes are the perfect nesting place for those detestable critters. When we eat the big ‘chokes, I have to soak them in a bucket, then wash nearly every leaf carefully. It’s a pain. Not so with the babies!
I only have about eight babies at a time. You can probably buy a greater amount at the farmers’ markets, and if so, just scale up this recipe. I know a lot of folks like to just roast baby artichokes, but I still find them a little tough that way. So the key is to boil them first, then roast them. Finish them with a lovely lemon sauce and you’re golden. This recipe is very loosely adapted from Food + Wine.
Rinse off your baby artichokes, about eight of them. Slice about 1/4” off the top (more if they are bigger than 2” each). Slice off the stem, or leave on and peel it. Peel off ALL the small, hard outer leaves, until you reach the tender thin ones. Slice them in half. They should be young enough that there is little choke. If there is any fuzzy center at all, scoop it out. Place them in a saucepan with 1-1/2 cup dry white wine and 1-1/2 cup water. Add a splash of olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer (with lid halfway on) for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain, and lay on a towel to dry for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat your oven to 450 degrees. When artichokes are dry, place them cut-side up on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 8-10 minutes. Turn the artichokes over and roast for a further 5-10 minutes until crispy.
Whisk together a little olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, capers, salt and pepper. Drizzle over artichokes (or serve as a dip, in which case you’ll want to emulsify it by blending until it’s smooth).
Growing artichokes in our zone 9b garden is a lot easier than I originally thought. We have them planted in an area that gets early morning sun, very late afternoon sun, and shade the rest of the day. They are watered on the drip system according to the seasons, except in winter when we get our rain. We started out with one plant in each of three beds - the beds are triangle shaped and are about 1-1/2 ft by 3 ft. The plant grows, produces flower buds (the artichoke), which you either eat or let flower (we do both), and then senesces. When droopy and nearly dead, I cut that branch down to the ground. Another branch will grow from the roots. Usually we have 2-5 flowering branches at a time. And the branches are huge.
I keep them well-mulched, but I have never fed them with any kind of fertilizer, just a side dressing of compost every year or two. They’ve been flowering and re-flowering for six years now.
Do you grow artichokes? What’s your favorite way to eat them? I’d like to pickle some, but haven’t done that yet, and am looking for some suggestions/recipes - please share!