Travelers through Central California inevitably learn the remarkable abundance of the artichoke. No ordinary plant, as I learned as a small child — one of my favorites then and now.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language says it is:
“1. A Mediterranean thistlelike plant (Cynara Scolymus) in the composite family, having pinnately divided leaves and large discoid heads of bluish flowers.

“2. The edible, immature flower head of this plant. Also called globe artichoke.”

As you drive up California’s Highway 1 through Moss Landing and Castroville you will see fields of these beautiful creations at every stage of growth, not to mention half a dozen roadside stands where you may purchase them. There are so many sizes of these gorgeous globes to choose from and so many different ways to serve them.
Back in the day in our house we had them the traditional way: Steamed or boiled and kind of waterlogged with a side of mayo or butter; you plucked the leaves from from the bud, and, using your bottom teeth, scraped the meat off each leaf, yielding tiny but delicious treats until you got to the choke, which was then removed by an adult as they would prick our tiny little fingers! And oh, the heart, now that was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, so to speak, so sweet and savory that I would eat it as slowly as I could, all the while guarding it from my brother who I knew would eat his very quickly! No sharesies, bro! And so it was for many years.
Jump to the future, i.e., now, which I consider to be one of the most intriguing times ever for culinary exploration. If you read my post on the Los Angeles restaurant the Bazaar you’ll agree there are now so many ways to cook everything from an arti to foie gras that it’s nearly overwhelming. We have entered a gastronomic revolution where all bets are off! Anyway, this particular recipe was taken from a way I saw it cooked once, can’t even recall where, only I prefer my way, doing it with very small artichokes. It was on my recent trip north that the recipe came to fruition and I must say is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, absolutely!

Artichokes Extraordinaire:
To begin, steam in a large pot:
2 dozen baby artichokes. The bottoms should be chopped off at the tender point and the pointy tops chopped off in the same manner, peeling away the tough outside leaves to reveal the heart of the artichoke. As you cut out each heart, drop it into water with the juice of a lemon so as to avoid browning. (You could also use frozen, though not canned, artichoke hearts, but I would go the extra mile.)
When about half-way cooked (10-12 minutes) remove to let them cool. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
While the hearts are cooling, gather the rest of the ingredients:
1-1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
1-1/2 cups finely shredded Parmesan cheese
5 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced finely
1/2 stick butter, melted with the garlic. Don’t cook it; I do it in the microwave 30 seconds at a time, in a cup or small bowl.

Cut the half-cooked and now cooled artichokes in half and place in a 13″ x 9″ x 2″ inch well-oiled baking dish. Sprinkle alternately a few times with bread crumbs and cheese until they are all well-covered, and then spoon the melted garlic butter over the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until top is golden brown. If (like me) you like it almost burned around the edges, put it under the broiler for a minute or two — but watch very closely. Remove and serve. Extraordinary!!!!

And as always, enjoy!!!
© Jennifer Green Alger 2010