This is the time of year that the biggest and best artichokes make their way to area markets from the Castroville area of California. Ocean Mist Farms is headquartered there dominates the artichoke market in the U.S. I had the pleasure of doing some marketing work for them a few years back and since the name of my agency is Artichoke Creative, it was pretty much marketing heaven and the several trips I made up to Castroville rank among the best business trips I’ve been on. While Ocean Mist grows many types of vegetables, it’s their artichokes they are known for and there are areas around Castroville where artichoke field’s stretch as far as the eye can see. It’s quite a site and it inspired me to try my hand at growing them several times in Leucadia, with much success one year.
I was not really planning on growing them but was in Armstrong Garden Center one day and they had artichoke starter plants about 10” in height. It was January when I purchased enough plants to fill my 10’ x 30’ garden on the side of my house and they seemed to thrive on the coastal climate. I watered them liberally and they shot up and started producing nice meaty, medium sized artichokes in early May. When I say meaty, that translates into the nugget of edible goodness on the end of each leave was much larger than a typical artichoke. I had about 15 plants and all of them were producing 3-5 artichokes each so for about a month we had fresh artichokes off the plant about every other day. Needless to day, with this bountiful harvest I ended up getting very creative in my preparation and to this day, one recipe still stands out as one that I will never tire of and a sure crowd pleaser.
The formal name for the dish is Roasted Corn and Applewood Bacon Stuffed Artichokes. Do I have your attention yet? If not, read on because there is much more to this recipe and it only gets better. I’m going to create this recipe for 2 people so adjust accordingly for more and I really don’t do a lot of measuring, it’s more of an instinctive preparation. First off pull out your best offset serrated knife and cut off the top quarter of the artichoke. Then cut it down the middle vertically so you have two even halves, or as even as you can get them. Bring a large pot of water with some chicken stock, salt and pepper, and a mix of dried herbs to a boil. I tend to stick with the Italian blend of herbs with this dish. While the halved artichokes are cooking, that’s the time to start your grill. I prefer charcoal and wood mix but a gas grill would work fine too. This is also the time to start the risotto by cooking the Aborio rice in olive oil with a handful of finely diced onion for about 3-5 minutes then start adding your white wine and chicken stock as needed. Risotto requires regular stirring and adding of stock so keep that in mind as you start the applewood bacon in the frying pan. I cut it up with some sharp kitchen scissors then when it’s almost done I add the corn either cut from an ear or Trader Joes roasted corn that is already seasoned. For two people I’d go with 8 slices of bacon and half a bag of corn or 2 ears. You want to have left over risotto for your morning after risotto cakes so that usually translates into about half a bag or box. Just before the risotto reaches that perfect al dente consistency, which entails a lot of tasting to ensure, add the bacon and corn then cook and stir for another 5 minutes while you drain the artichokes. The leaves should come off the choke with a slight tug and the edible nugget on the leave should be firm enough for 5 minutes on the grill and finished in a broiler. At this point, add whipping cream to the risotto to your desired consistency and turn it off. A small, serrated steak knife works perfectly to scoop out the inedible center of the artichoke by cutting right along the top of the heart. It should be cooked enough that the center part just slides out. Season the artichokes with salt and pepper and give them a nice char on both sides of your hot grill. While they are on the grill, grate your favorite dry Italian cheese like a Pecorino or Romano or Parmesan into a nice fluffy pile. Take the artichokes off the grill and put empty cavity up on a foil lined cookie sheet then over stuff them with the risotto. You should have risotto in and around the artichokes, covering the pan. Sprinkle a liberal amount of the grated cheese over the entire pan of risotto and place it in your oven or toaster oven pre-heated to broil. Cook until the top is golden brown and there you go. I’ve done this dish with a nice steak or piece of fish but I’ve also done it solo as you have your meat, veggie and starch in the risotto and the artichoke. Next morning, form the left over risotto into small cakes and fry on each side until crispy brown and top with two eggs cooked to your liking. Once again, the bacon in the risotto provides the meaty goodness and well, I enjoy that as much as the dinner the night before.
If you have specific questions on the preparation of this, please feel free to shoot me an email and I would be happy to help.