Monday, August 15, 2011
Fried Young Artichoke Hearts
Thanks to the curiosity and intelligence of a few local farmers, we have a brief season to tiny artichokes. These are not the huge dinosaur artichokes of my childhood, the ones my parents would surreptitiously pick from the fields along the coast between Moss Landing and Monterey. The prickly, ancient plant spread for as far as the eye could see, hearty in the cold fog and craggy, sandy soil, from the valley floor to the sand dune edge of the bay.
Those were the artichokes you could steam and sit down with, taking an hour to methodically peel and dip in dad's homemade aioli. All but the largest outside leaves had a tiny meaty bump of buttery flesh to scrape savoring-ly between your front teeth. As you got closer to the sacred heart, the meaty bumps got bigger, until finally the softest inner leaves you could eat all but the thorny tip.
Not so these Finger Lakes artichokes, annual output about 100 pounds. These leaves are scrappy and wooden, their sole job seeming to be protecting the tiny heart. Climate, leaves and size all being so different, it is astonishing and beautiful to find that the heart is exactly the same. Well it is also smaller, but the taste, that buttery, incomparable flavor that sits on your breath for several long minutes, is the same and transports me utterly to being a girl, around the table, with my artichoke, the ultimate finger food, lost in thoughts of dinosaurs and how they must have eaten artichokes too.
At the table as a child, we scraped away the choke, the furry part, with tiny silver spoons and then dipped our large disc of heart into the aioli. All these food memories played through my mind as I watched Craig clean, batter and fry our tiny artichoke hearts. He used egg, flour then Panko as the dredge. All else is your typical fry process. Those are a few fried sage leaves on the platter in the top picture, a very nice flavor combination, and another sensory reminder of life on the Central California Coast.