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My first foray into a closer relationship with artichokes began as a work assignment. Drive to Lompoc, California, chat with a farmer, get some pictures and get back to Los Angeles without becoming a part of the daily human-and-metal gridlock. Coffee in hand, I raced up the 5, beating traffic and made it with a few minutes to spare.

Until that point, I categorized artichokes as one of those foods shrouded in history, enjoyed by Romans and Greeks but not necessarily an everyday part of my kitchen. Spiky, thorny, gorgeous yet inhospitable, my little mind was about to be opened to the joys of this thistle.

I spent the day with Steve Jordan. Steve is a man who knows his chokes. In fact, his level of knowledge is quite intimidating. Serious, polite and quiet, Steve is a forth generation California farmer who has been growing artichokes for over twenty years. California grows the majority of artichokes consumed in the United States, and they've been grown here since the 1800s when Italian immigrants brought them to the west. The coastal weather of areas like Lompoc and Castroville are perfect for artichokes, and here they thrive like crazy.

Steve maintains over 550 acres of green and purple artichokes, and when he's not tilling and toiling the land he spends time in Italy, the artichoke's country of origin, to meet with other artichoke farmers and share ideas and information. He's even a member of the global artichoke congress - who knew?

I always thought an artichoke was an artichoke was an artichoke. Boy, was I wrong. Steve actually spends many years nurturing, testing and growing various types of artichokes, many of them starting from European seedlings and spending time in his lab before making their way to the field. It's important to note that his artichokes are not genetically modified, thank goodness. If he discovers a variety he likes and believes can do well commercially then he plants it, although it takes anywhere from 2-7 years before it will end up on our tables. Over the years he's developed green and purple artichokes like the Campania, Fiesole and Lyon and he's always on the lookout for new, delicious varieties.

Then there's the taste. An artichoke fresh from the field is like a green gift from heaven, full of delicious, grassy flavor that is delicious by itself, even raw. Lightly steamed, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, drawn butter or a simple aioli and I could skip just about everything else and be a very happy man.

I'm happy to say that artichokes are now a part of my regular routine. Steamed, baked, stuffed, grilled or dipped, you basically can't go wrong with a hearty, fresh artichoke. I think those Romans were on to something indeed.

10 Responses to “Artichokes”

  1. Anonymous bea at La Tartine Gourmande 

    Those artichokes just look like beautiful flowers in a field. Interesting to read about the love of the farmer for his artichokes. They are his babies! I admire those people's passion a lot. And as pure coincidence, I made a recipe with an artichoke pesto sauce for spaghetti 2 nights ago. I had bought baby ones!
    In France a traditional recipe is to steam them, then make an egg shallot vinaigrette in which you dip the tip of the leaves. I love that!

    And finally, great post and pics!
    The end.

  2. Anonymous melissa 

    i absolutely adore artichokes no matter how they're prepared. i love to steam them and eat them with drawn lemon-garlic butter.
    another reason i love them so much - they're reminiscent of my most favorite flower, the peony.
    beautiful photos, matt!

  3. Anonymous Paranoid Freud 

    Those artichokes at waist level are looking awfully phallic for some reason. Regardless, I'd eat them.

  4. Anonymous shaz 

    HI matt. You got a wonderful blog here. Keep up the good work! I added your blog as a link on mine. I hope you dun mind. My blog is a tiny, modest one about my gastronomic adventures around Singapore (where im from). shaz

  5. Anonymous Kristine 

    This was wonderful information on artichokes. I feel that people are often intimidated by them, but they really are quite simple and delicious. They are my most favorite spring vegetable.

  6. Anonymous olivier 

    Every other weekend when I was a kid, artichokes were what was for lunch (in season). I lurve them.

    Since it makes water taste a bit off, do you have any wine suggestions to complement a steamed artichoke + oil-heavy vinaigrette?

  7. Anonymous hd connelly 

    read this the other day and that night I made a yummy artichoke and kalamata olive dip! My second favorite artichoke use - pizza! I rarely have a slice without them. :)

  8. Anonymous Olivia 

    Fantastic post and photos! I am always thrilled to find new varieties in our local markets, though it's amazing how rarely the varietal is labeled. I posted on the under-appreciation of the artichoke awhile back and, for anyone interested, included photo-instructions on how to prepare one for steaming.

  9. Anonymous Abroadhurst 

    Hey Matt, I as well have a love for the taste of artichokes. Living on the East Coast we usually get the frost bitten kind. But as my luck would have it, my best friend just spent a week in Cali and returned with a whole big box full. Can't wait to start steaming and eating.

  10. Blogger 日月神教-向左使 

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About me

  • I'm Matt Armendariz
  • From Los Angeles, California
  • A man with a passion for good food and a wonderful life with a dash of irreverence. Read at your own risk. Advertising director by day, wino by night. All photos on this site by Matt Armendariz.
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