Just the Bracts, Ma’am: Heirloom Green Globe Artichokes
Diane Rezendes, food writer
In my neighborhood in Redwood City, my morning walk sometimes takes me past the Hetch Hetchy right-of-way. Six artichoke plants grow behind a chain-link fence, seemingly randomly placed (if placed at all). No one tends them and no one harvests them. So passers-by can see the artichokes in full flower, and appreciate them for the thistle plants they are.
What impresses me about vegetables is that they yield such bounty in every part of the plant: roots offer carrots and fennel; stems provide rhubarb and celery; leaves sprout those yummy greens everyone seems to be juicing; and flower buds like capers and artichokes – today’s feature – delight the palate.
For the next few weeks, we’re featuring heirloom Green Globe artichokes from Pezzini Farms in Castroville. Each artichoke is hand-picked in the morning and delivered the same day to ensure maximum freshness. The only way it could be any fresher would be if you picked it yourself.
These heirlooms are the only artichoke the Pezzinis grow on their 100-acre family farm – and in fact, it’s one of the last farms to grow them. Many other farmers have gone to a newer hybrid, which is a good artichoke, but not nearly as meaty and flavorful as this one.
They truly are a family heirloom: every single artichoke in the store comes from the same root stock that was brought over from Italy and passed down through the Pezzini family farm since they started more than 80 years ago.
Choosing and Using
Look for artichokes that feel heavy for their size, indicating good moisture content. The leaves (bracts, actually) should not appear dried, a sign of age. A fresh artichoke will emit a little ‘squeak’ sound when gently squeezed; an older one will not.
Traditionally, they are served steamed or boiled – then each tender bract is pulled off to get the fleshy part where it meets the choke. Some people like to dip it in melted butter; some people prefer an aioli sauce; a few purists declare the delicate bract perfect as is, unsullied by anything else. A very flavorful preparation – and very Italian – is to stuff each tender bract with a mix of breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic and herbs before cooking. It’s more labor intensive but the result is well worth the effort.
Artichokes are high in fiber – about 10 grams in just one medium artichoke! – and a good source of vitamins C, K, niacin and folate; as well as the minerals copper, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. They’re low in saturated fat and very low in cholesterol. Of course, this is before the tender bracts are drowned in butter or garlicky mayonnaise – but oh, they taste so good that way!
- Nearly two-thirds of the nation’s artichokes are grown in Castroville, also known as the artichoke capital of the world.
- The artichoke has been cultivated since Roman times (hence the name ‘Roman thistle’).
- Marilyn Monroe (then Norma Jean Mortenson) was named the state’s first honorary Artichoke Queen in 1948.