Artichokes are one of our favorite vegetables at Putney Farm. Usually we eat large artichokes and artichoke hearts, but we recently discovered a special treat, young or “baby” artichokes. These are the first artichokes of the year and are still very small, about 2 inches long or less, and quite tender. So small and tender that you an eat most of the outer leaves, and you do not need to remove the inner “choke”. After some trimming, you can eat these artichokes whole.
When and where can you get baby artichokes? Artichokes have two seasons, spring and fall, and you may be able to find these small beauties early in each season. As for where, we would suggest a farmers market, probably in California. Central California’s Monterey County (Castroville, to be exact) is the epicenter of US artichoke farming, almost all commercial artichoke farming takes place in this area. Most baby artichokes are likely to stay in this area, as farmers and locals like to keep them to themselves. However, artichokes are highly prized by chefs worldwide, so it is worth seeing if you have a small local producer at your farmers market. And if you can find them, with their tender texture and earthy flavor, baby artichokes are worth seeking out.
We grow our own artichokes from 4 big plants in a bed with our potatoes, so in some way, that is an inspiration for this dish. The artichoke plants are big and bushy, with multiple stalks or “canes”, some of which will shoot up to form the artichokes. Each plant will give off multiple artichokes, and if we harvest early, we will get multiple harvests from each plant. One bonus of the artichoke plant is the beauty of the blossoms. An artichoke is basically a large thistle, and if allowed to bloom, you get a stunningly bright purple blossom. The bees love the artichoke blossoms and in summer the blossoms will sway with the activity of the bees. Sights like these are a blessing and a good reason to have a garden.
As for the recipe, it is very loosely adapted from an Alice Waters recipe for small artichokes and new potatoes. We use her method for stewing the baby artichokes, but add diced sweet onion, lemon juice, seasoning and a touch of bacon to round out the flavors. The dish does require some prep work, but we think it is worth it. The artichokes provide a great earthy flavor, the potatoes add some sweetness and starch, the lemon juice gives a nice acid touch (lemons and artichokes are happy together) and the bacon adds some salt and richness. The bacon is optional, but we do recommend it. (We always recommend it).
As for making the dish, as noted, this one doesrequire some prep work. Like all artichokes, baby artichokes do need to be cleaned and trimmed. In this case you need to trim the top and bottoms and also any tough other leaves. We trim down to the lighter green leaves and that usually removes any tough or thorny outer leaves that will not soften in cooking. As for the inner choke, we quarter the artichokes and look for any early thorns or tough spots. The baby choke is still very soft, so it is easy to trim any inner areas.
Once you clean the baby artichokes, this recipe is pretty smooth sailing. Boil the new potatoes (Yukon, fingerling, Bintje are all good) until tender and set aside. (We also crisp up a few pieces of bacon, but this is optional). Then steam (stew?) the artichokes in a covered saucepan with some sweet onion, butter, olive oil and about ½ cup of water. Add water as needed to keep up the steam and wait for the artichokes to cook, about 10-15 minutes. To finish the dish add the potatoes, the juice of ½ a lemon, season with salt and pepper and add a tablespoon each of sweet butter and olive oil. With a quick stir, you will get a light emulsion that will coat the vegetables. Check one more time for seasoning, garnish with parsley and bacon, if you like, and serve.
We served the artichokes with pan-roasted halibut and a salsa verde. It was a great match, the fish and salsa verde flavors were light, clean and bright, while the artichokes and potatoes provided earthy, sweet flavors. And yes, the bacon added lovely salty, fatty notes. Finally, while we do not plan on providing wine suggestions very often (try Ben Narasin’s blog for SFoodie for that) this is a dish that would be great with a young Albarino or Sancerre.
Baby Artichoke Ragout with New Potatoes
(Adapted from Alice Waters)
Notes Before You Start:
- Take your time cleaning the artichokes. When trimming them, remove anything that even looks tough or fibrous, it is worth the extra effort.
- Place cut artichokes in acidulated water (lemon juice or vinegar) to avoid browning.
What You Get: A very flavorful vegetable dish that highlights baby artichokes, a special spring treat. This dish is great as a side or as lunch.
What You Need: No special equipment required. You may have to hunt around for the baby artichokes.
How Long? 35-45 minutes of mostly active time. Cleaning the baby artichokes will take 10-15 minutes.
- 1 pound small new potatoes, whole or cut to pieces less than 1 inch
- An equal proportion of baby artichokes to potatoes (this will vary by size of artichoke), expect this to be 8-12 baby artichokes. Cleaned and trimmed.
- ¼ cup sweet or white onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sweet butter
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Salt and pepper
- Italian parsley, for garnish
- 2 strips of bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled, about ¼ cup (optional)
- In a medium pan under high heat, boil potatoes until tender. About 10-12 minutes. When done, set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over high heat, add 1 tablespoon each of the oil and butter. Add onion and soften for 1-2 minutes. Add artichokes and approximately ½ cup of water to saucepan (you need enough water to cover the bottom of the pan). Cover saucepan and change heat to low. Steam artichokes until soft, 10-15 minutes. Add water to pot during cooking if it dries out.
- When artichokes are done (try one, you will know), add the potatoes, lemon juice and the remaining butter and oil. Stir to create a light sauce that coats the vegetables. Taste, and liberally season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Garnish with parsley and bacon, if you like. Serve.