Artichoke Flower of the Coast

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The artichoke
of delicate heart
erect
in its battle-dress, builds
its minimal cupola;
keeps
stark
in its scallop of
scales.

- Pablo Neruda, “Ode to an Artichoke”
Translated by Jodey Bateman

The artichoke is a flower - a flower you can eat. It is technically a  thistle in the sunflower family. Seemingly uninviting with its  prickles, it’s also beautiful in a vase. Worth its weight in  folklore, the artichoke often evokes strong opinions.

Catherine de Medici brought it from her native Italy to France when  she married King Henry II and Marilyn Monroe was California’s  first Artichoke Queen in 1947. But the artichoke isn't just for  royalty; it can be easily prepared for any family's table.

Simply  rinse, trim the stem to desired length, level the top by cutting off  an inch or so, and trim any thorns off the leaves with scissors. Rub  with lemon to maintain green color. Place in a steamer basket and  steam for about 30 minutes or until outer leaves loosen.

To prepare a  la Romana, cut, trim, and the scrape out the inner fuzzy  “choke” from center and fill with a tablespoon mixture  of crushed mint and minced garlic. Place upside down in 3 inches of  water with lemon juice and splash olive oil. Simmer until easily  pierced by a fork.

This vegetable is an invitation to take time - savor it one leaf at a  time. Place a cooked artichoke in the middle of a plate, peel a leaf,  and uncover layers of conversation until you get to the  heart of the matter. The leaves are meatier and sweeter towards the  center. Scoop the choke away and eat the heart with a spoon. Or divide  the heart among your tablemates, dip in mayonnaise, aioli, or butter  for a taste sensation.

All U.S. artichokes are grown in California. The Mediterranean climate  allows it to thrive in Castroville, Monterey County, the Artichoke  Center of the World. The warm days and coastal fog keep the plants  happy. They grow year round but are at their peak in spring and fall.

To store at home, don’t wash but sprinkle with a little water  and store in an airtight plastic bag. They should remain fresh for a  week.

We hope you enjoy one of California’s jewels - the  artichoke.

 

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