Heirloom Green Globe Artichokes
Diane Rezendes, food writer
While the word “heirloom” may bring to mind family treasures and antiques, to the foodies, dedicated farmers market patrons and artichoke enthusiasts of the world, this word means the absolute best.
An heirloom is any variety of fruit or vegetable that has been passed down from generation to generation. There is some disagreement as to the number of years an item must have been passed along to be considered an heirloom, but basically it has to have been passed down for at least 50 years.
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.