Seasonal Eats: Have Flowers for Dinner with Artichokes!

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Baby Artichokes at the Hollywood Farmer's Market (Heather Parlato/LAist)

The artichokes are here! It's truly springtime when you can say you're having a flower that eats like a meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Artichokes are the flowerbud of a perennial thistle, with a long culinary history in Mediterranean culture, which is probably why they can be enjoyed in such versatile ways. There are endless amazing recipes out there, so let's jump right in!

Aside from being hearty and delicious, artichokes also have very high anti-oxidant properties, and have been used to promote liver health and digestion. If you're preparing artichokes for cooking by trimming outer leaves, consider reserving them and steeping in boiling water, or add to flavored teas to make artichoke tea and reap the benefits. Artichokes have also been found to raise your HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio through a few compounds found in the plant, so adding more of them to your diet is absolutely recommended. Rating a 4 in glycemic load, artichokes are a good source of Niacin, Vitamin B6, Iron and Phosphorus, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Starting with raw preparations, though it's not common in the States, one very Italian way to enjoy artichokes is to get very tender, young buds, slice very thin and marinate a couple hours in lemon juice, sometimes with garlic, and then serve as an antipasto with shaved Parmesan. Tutti Frutti farms at the Hollywood Farmers' Market always come through with the small, young, thin-leaved artichokes that are perfect for this, definitely try it out! If you're into this, there are a few salads you might enjoy insalata all'arancia, or this cooked version, artichoke and orange salad.

For more salads using cooked artichokes, try artichoke and celery root salad or this unique warm artichoke heart salad with white beans, arugala & salsa verde. Other great starters include this yogurt-based spinach & artichoke dip, or this delicately spring-fresh roasted asparagus and baby artichokes with lemon-oregano aioli. Enjoy tapas-like fare with grilled baby artichokes with caper-mint sauce, or braised in lemon and olive oil. Though i'm not big on frying, these fried artichokes looked like a really tasty snack and are really pretty as well.

The way I grew up eating artichokes was after a simple 45-minute boil in salted water, dipping the leaves in a mix of mayonnaise and Dijon, which is still a favorite. Artichokes may also be steamed with the dipping sauce of your preference. Another popular preparation braising, as with artichokes braised with garlic and thyme, or stuffing and braising in white wine. Finally, stuffing and baking also does the trick.

Moving on to simple dishes, artichokes make great toppings on pizzas, and fare deliciously in omelets or frittatas. A throw-back to our profile on green garlic, try artichoke and green garlic soup. As with most things Italian, artichoke and Parmesan risotto is delicious. If you're looking for pasta ideas, this artichoke, olive and lemon pasta is fresh and tangy. And if you're the type to hand-roll pasta, artichokes make a great stuffing for ravioli.

If you're looking to get serious in the oven, there's always artichoke and mushroom lasagna, or this very unique eggs in purgatory with artichoke hearts, potatoes and capers casserole. Another thing I like to do is put tangy veggies into a ricotta-egg mixture and bake into a tart, like this artichoke heart, kale & ricotta pie. On the lighter side of things, if you're roasting or broiling chicken or fish, switch out potatoes for artichokes, as with roasted snapper with artichokes.

On the stovetop, artichokes make a great side-vegetable to sautéd sea bream or steamed trout as well as this sautéed steak (note the artichoke / red pepper relish there). Not to leave out chicken, this chicken and artichoke stew sounds downright comfy!

A good deal of the recipes I found call for frozen or canned artichoke hearts, and while there's nothing wrong with that, preparing them fresh, or better yet, putting up some jars of homemade marinated artichokes while they're in season for use throughout the year is how seasonal eating resists being a limiting diet. If you want to do a traditional marinade, skip the grilling part of my recipe below, and add some chopped celery tops as you pack the jars.

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Marinated Grilled Artichokes (Heather Parlato/LAist)

Marinated Grilled Artichokes

24 tender baby artichokes

juice of 2 lemons

1 cup white wine vinegar

1 minced preserved lemon, or zest of both fresh lemons

4 sprigs marjoram or oregano

6 small sprigs thyme

20 black peppercorns

olive oil & salt for cooking & packing

If you're grilling with charcoal, start the coals and soak mesquite chips if you have them. If you're cooking with gas, heat the grill a few minutes ahead of when the artichokes are done, below.

Trim the baby artichokes by pulling off tougher outer leaves, cutting off tops, and paring down stems to a point. Here's an example. As you work, drop each into a bowl of acidulated water to prevent discoloration, made by adding the juice of 1 lemon to the bowl.

Heat a pot of water to a boil and drop the artichokes in, cooking for 8 minutes, to saturate with water and soften. Remove from heat and return to acidulated water bath to cool down. Drain, cut the artichokes in half lengthwise, dump the acidulated water, return to the bowl and drizzle with olive oil for grilling.

If you're using coal, sprinkle soaked mesquite chips over the hot coals just before grilling. Start by grilling the artichokes cut-side-down to cook the hearts through. Check frequently, and turn when they show a toasty-brown color. Grill the outsides to a toasty brown for color and flavor. As the artichokes cook, heat a saucepan with the juice of 1 lemon, vinegar and 1 cup of water. Add the peppercorns once it reaches a boil and turn off heat. Let the marinade steep as the artichokes finish grilling.

Clean 2 canning jars, and add a pinch of lemon zest & salt (or minced preserved lemon packed in salt) to the bottom. Layer in 4 artichoke halves with pinches of zest and salt with the occasional sprig of thyme and stack artichokes in the jars. Halfway up, wedge the marjoram or oregano along the side of the jar, so it may impart flavor to the stack. Continue layering until all the artichokes are packed. Pour the hot marinate liquid over the top, and top off with water if necessary. Store in the fridge until ready to use.