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A Seasonal Second Chance:

Fall Artichokes

In the natural course of things, the artichoke plant bears fruit in the spring and puts itself to rest long before winter sets in. But, savvy agricultural scientists have found a way to coax the large thistle plant into waking up each autumn and producing a second round of chokes between the months of September and early December. This year-end crop, known in the industry as the “fall flush,” represents approximately 20 percent of globe-variety artichoke production in California. For chefs, it represents a culinary second-coming and the chance to tinker once more with an ingredient that food writer Jane Grigson once called, “a vegetable expression of civilized living, of the long view, of increasing delight by anticipation and crescendo.” The artichoke, Grigson added, “ has no place in the troll’s world of instant gratification.”

Worth the Effort

But, it certainly has a coveted place in many professional kitchens. Despite the artichoke’s thorny armor of leaves that can only be vanquished by a sharp knife and considerable prep time, chefs appreciate the succulent flavor of the vegetable and the various ways it can be used. Artichokes take to steaming, frying, braising, sautéing, grilling and roasting. Moreover, they can be stuffed, and their cooked hearts can be puréed for sauces and dressings.
Autumn chokes are somewhat thornier, more conical in shape, and often smaller than their spring sisters. An early frost sometimes leaves a winter tan on the artichoke plant that results in bronze-colored outer leaves. But once cooked, frostbitten chokes return to their original shade of olive green with no diminished effects.
James D’Aquila, chef-owner of The Wild Artichoke in Yorba Linda, California, says that the texture of these late-blooming artichokes can affect the way they cook and how long they cook. Although he doesn’t see huge differences between cool-weather and warm weather chokes, D’Aquila finds the late-blooming varieties to be slightly more unpredictable than the spring crop. “You have to keep an eye on them,” D’Aquila advises. “With fall chokes, cooking time can vary widely.”
Like any perishable commodity, pricing on artichokes fluctuates daily, depending on factors such as weather, supply, and demand. Individual case cost is always higher during periods of low production, however, contract pricing on artichokes is now available from big suppliers such as California’s Ocean Mist. With contract pricing, chefs and distributors can rely on a consistent supply and fixed pricing all year long. As restaurateurs and their guests become more aware of the artichoke’s year-round availability, this option is becoming more and more popular.

 

Open Season

Operating his restaurant in the heart of artichoke country, it’s no surprise that D’Aquila uses all forms of artichokes, in all types of dishes, all year round. One of his most popular “all-season” menu items is roasted artichoke halves, which he braises in advance to soften, then sautés with a mixture of olive oil, butter, garlic, and shallots, deglazes with sherry and white wine, roasts to caramelize the outer leaves, then plates and serves with a balsamic vinegar reduction.
Outside of California, however, serving artichokes in the fall and winter months can seem an anomaly, at least until consumers become more aware of their year-round availability. “Artichokes still signal springtime to most of my guests,” says Michael Paley, chef at Proof on Main in Louisville, Kentucky.  “They need to be assured that they’re not getting out-of-season vegetables.”
Paley is one of those chefs who finds little use for artichoke leaves, although he sometimes throws them into a vegetable stock.  “I’m especially fond of the stems,” he says. “They’re simply extensions of the bottoms and can be used the same way.” To prepare the stem, the chef simply trims it off, peels it down, and cuts it into rounds, getting and using as much of the meaty flesh as possible.
Paley’s culinary inspiration most often comes from what he refers to as the “simple and sensible” style of classic Italian dishes. Artichokes, originally brought to this country by Italians, fit right into that paradigm. One popular menu item at Proof pairs artichokes with local striped bass. These are foods that Paley says go together “like peas and carrots” or, perhaps more aptly, like salmon and fennel. The dish is prepared with artichoke bottoms and sauced with a broth made from the artichoke cooking liquid.

What Wine

Artichokes contain a natural flavor enhancer called cynarin that stimulates taste buds so that the choke and everything eaten with it tastes better. Although cynarin is actually responsible for the artichoke’s somewhat bitter flavor, it sweetens and generally enhances the flavor of anything eaten with or after it. Pairing artichokes with wine is a challenge because cynarin will also change the flavor of anything you drink with it.
Ken Collura, sommelier at Andina restaurant and wine director of the restaurant’s own Pearl Wine Shop in Portland, Oregon, says that whereas vegetables such as artichokes and asparagus have traditionally been difficult to pair with wine, his job is getting easier. “Today’s market in the United States is so broad that it’s possible to get formerly hard-to-find bottles with relative ease,” he points out.
For artichoke dishes, Collura usually chooses a white or rosé from Sancerre or Menetou-Salon in the Loire Valley of France—wines that are lean, bone dry, and quite crisp. Another favorite is Gruner Veltliner from Austria. His best advice on that varietal with artichokes is to be sure to get an entry-level bottling, which is usually drier and less rich than higher-end styles, from strong houses such as Loimer and Hirsch.


 

From Hand to Heart: Caring for Artichokes

On arrival, artichokes should be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, unwashed and untrimmed, to be used within 3 or 4 days. Many chefs feel that unless you’re serving whole stuffed artichokes or tender baby artichokes, the leaves serve no practical purpose and are best discarded. The heart, or meaty bottom, of the artichoke is their primary interest.
To trim artichokes down to their hearts, first fill a container with enough water to cover the trimmed artichokes completely. Add the juice of several lemons, along with the lemon shells. This acidulated water will keep the trimmed artichokes from turning brown.
Hold each artichoke with the stem end toward you, and pull back the tough outer leaves until they snap and break off naturally. Continue until you reach the yellow inner leaves.
Cut off the top two thirds of the artichoke, from the tip to the where the meaty heart begins. Then cut off the stem at the base of the artichoke. Working quickly, rub any exposed parts with a halved lemon. If any of the dark green exterior remains, trim it away with a paring knife.
With a spoon, carefully scoop out and discard the fuzzy inner choke. Place the trimmed artichoke in the acidulated water bath until it’s time to cook.
 

Pan-Seared Kentucky Striped Bass with Stewed Artichokes and Garden Basil

by Chef Michael Paley, Proof on Main, Louisville, Kentucky

Yield: 4 servings
Globe artichokes   4
Extra-virgin olive oil   1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp
Red onion, diced   1 cup
Carrot, diced    1/2 cup
Celery, diced    1/2 cup
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Dry white wine   2 cups
Chicken stock    2 cups
Bay leaves    2
Kentucky striped bass (7 oz fillets) 4
Lemon juice
Fresh thyme    2 Tbsp
Parsley, minced   2 Tbsp
Fresh basil leaves   8
Cherry tomatoes, blanched and peeled 16

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Trim artichokes and soak the hearts in acidulated water.
2. Place a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add 1/2 cup olive oil. When oil is hot, add onion, carrot, and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables for a few minutes, but do not let them brown.
3. Remove the artichokes hearts from the water, cut into quarters, and add to the pot to sweat with the vegetables. (This initial heating will prevent the hearts from discoloring any further.)
4. Add the wine; cook for 1 minute, then add the stock and bay leaves. There should be enough liquid to cover the artichokes by at least 1/2 inch. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the artichokes are tender when poked with the tip of a knife. Remove the hearts from the broth and keep warm.
5. To cook the bass, place a sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat until oil smokes. Season the fish and sear, skin side down, to a nice golden brown. Finish in oven for 4 minutes or to desired doneness.
6. Reheat artichoke cooking broth in a saucepan, taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. When broth is hot, add a squeeze of lemon juice, thyme, parsley, and basil.
7. To plate, divide the artichoke hearts and broth among four bowls. Top with bass, skin side up. Garnish with basil and cherry tomatoes and serve.

Chef Paley recommends pairing this dish with a sauvignon blanc such as Cotat la Grande Cote  Sancerre.

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