Baby artichokes hit New Jersey farm stands last weekend. The only places I’d previously seen artichokes growing in fields were in California or the misty northern coast of France. Normally, artichokes are perennials; the roots are divided in the fall to propagate new plants and over-winter. Here, in a colder climate, they are grown as annuals, started in February by seed and set out in May. I bought a couple of small plants when the farmers market opened in May so we’ll see how that goes. I think I need to re-compost them since they prefer well-fertilized soil and are not growing as fast as I expected. It also could be too hot.
Just-harvested artichokes, especially the babies, are so much more flavorful than the packaged ones from the grocery store that I had to make them a special treat by braising them in light broth, olive oil and lemon juice. I accompanied them with steamed purple and red new potatoes that had just been dug, also the first of the season. They had been planted at a local organic farm in March under black plastic. The name “new potatoes” is sometimes wrongly ascribed to small potatoes. There’s world of difference when they’re truly new.
To top things off, I spooned on a dollop of mayonnaise that had been seasoned with Dijon mustard, lemon juice and a pinch or two of dried sumac. I prefer the tanginess of sumac to paprika, but paprika would also work, or the smoky version pimenton.
Braised Baby Artichokes with Lemon
6 baby artichokes
1 c light chicken stock, vegetable broth or water
¼ c flavorful extra-virgin olive oil
Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into a saucepan. Trim the stems of the artichokes and remove the tough outer leaves. Even though the artichokes are young, the outer leaves are tough, especially if they have developed a little spike. Quarter the artichokes, remove any fuzzy choke (mine had none) and drop them into the lemon juice in the pan. Swish them around to coat the surfaces so that they do not brown.
Add the liquid and oil and bring the mixture just to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered until the artichokes are tender but not falling apart, about 10 minutes. If you have a lot of liquid, remove the artichokes to a platter and boil down the liquid until slightly syrupy. Adjust for salt and pour over the artichokes.