My artichokes took a beating in the December storms, which they liked. By last week the wide dusky green leaves and stalks, swollen fat from all the water, produced bouquets of tight, cone-shaped flower buds.
That’s when I called dinner.
Last winter at the Forward’s virtual gala, I auctioned off an Artichoke Harvest Dinner for eight, the date TBD. The auction winners paid $800 for a five course, almost-all-artichoke dinner in our backyard. It was time to start cooking.
Actually, first came picking. In 2011 I ripped up our front lawn and replaced it with artichokes. They grow well in foggy, cool Venice Beach, they don’t need a ton of water even in a drought years, they’re perennials that keep producing new plants from their roots, and they are my favorite vegetable. That answers the “why?” question a person whose yard has 41 plants inevitably gets.
From just three plants I harvested 31 pounds. Now, what to cook?
I had already made an artichoke aperitivo from the bitter leaves. I roasted some of the buds, excised the hearts and blended them with Parmesan and lemon juice for a pesto (recipe below). I boiled more hearts along with new potatoes to serve with Val D’Aosta cheese I would let melt, raclette-like, over our outdoor fire. I made a cream of artichoke soup with hearts and more stems, along with green garlic and a little cauliflower. Chicken and artichoke heart paella, also over the fire. Shaved artichoke, fennel and avocado salad. And then some non-artichoke accompaniments and desserts: I made sourdough, pistachio ice cream, and a chocolate walnut torte, artichoke free. I was making a nice dinner, after all, not channeling Bubba Gump.
I served the dairy hors d’oeuvres first, took a break, then served dinner. We sat outside, the table decorated with, yes, a big globe artichoke, our guests facing our backyard garden and its two massive, well, you know what. I felt grateful: for the auction winners, for the rain, and for a strange plant that yields such a feast.
Artichoke Harvest Dinner
March 31, 2022
Backyard Artichoke Aperitivo & Navel Orange
Fresh Homemade Sourdough with Artichoke Pesto
Val D’Aosta Fonduta, New Potatoes, Artichoke
Artichoke and Green Garlic Soup
Shaved Artichoke, Fava, Radish and Avocado
Homemade Bay Leaf Liqueur
Fresh Mint Tea
Roasted Artichoke Pesto
5 medium artichokes
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash artichokes and wrap each in foil, sealing tightly. Add whole garlic to one of the packages. Place in oven and roast about 40 minutes. Unwrap and pierce an artichoke heart with a knife. If it goes in easily, they’re done. If not cook a bit longer.
Peal away leaves and thorns to get to the hearts. In a medium bowl, mash hearts and garlic with the remaining ingredients. Whisk or blend until smooth. Serve with toasted garlic bread or crackers.
Leftovers? Stir into pasta, thinning with a little water or cream.
This article was originally published on the Forward.