Beautiful photography in this post by Nina Menconi.
I’ll never forget traveling through Italy during late May a few years ago and desperately searching for artichokes featured on any menu. Each time the waiter said, “I carciofi sono finiti”–artichokes are finished–and I would just sigh! How was it possible that we missed the window to enjoy my favorite spring vegetable “alla Romana, al forno, fritti, or in tasty little fried balls called polpette ghiotte?!”
You see, I LOVE artichokes. The first time I truly realized that vegetables were cool was as a ten year old girl, and it was the artichoke that did it. My bonus mom, Debbie, was from California and she introduced artichokes to my dad and I–and it was love at first bite. I was fascinated by this foreign food that required not just eating the meaty leaves with your hands but also digging down until you found the golden heart. And so, I was of course dreaming of tasting the love Italians have for our shared favorite–the artichoke (as they call “carciofi,” which in Italian, also means “pine cone!”).
Each May, when I have the chance to work with the local artichokes that are in season, I can’t help but think about how Mediterranean cooks might highlight them in one of their everyday simple pasta meals. Keeping flavors pure and springlike, I imagine they’d lean on staples like spinach, lemon, parsley, onions, garlic and feta and would pick a pasta like orzo that’s fun and fast to cook.
While I’m actually using a jarred artichoke heart in this recipe versus fresh for the sake of convenience and speed, here are my tips on how to select and store fresh spring artichokes and help your child fall in love with artichokes the way my family did so many years ago!
How to pick a great artichoke and keep it fresh
- Select artichokes that are deep green and feel heavy for their size. A good test of freshness is to press the leaves against each other which should produce a squeaking sound.
- To store artichokes: sprinkle (but do not wash) artichokes with a little water and refrigerate in an airtight bag or container. They can last up to a week when stored properly.
- If you are looking for a good artichoke outside of their peak season during spring, you may find fall or winter artichokes “touched by frost – winter-kissed with a whitish, blistered appearance.” These are considered to be tender, tasty and premier–so don’t let their ugly exterior leaves deter you!
Artichoke fun facts about this thistle we adore
- Ask your child what part of the plant they think an artichoke comes from. The artichoke is a flower that has not yet bloomed. If allowed to flower, the buds develop into magnificent purple-blue blooms.
- Did you know that California produces 100% of the United States artichoke crop? Castroville, California, calls itself the “Artichoke Center of the World.”
- Do you know where the word artichoke comes from? The Italian words—articiocco and articoclos—which means pine cone.
- Onion (yellow), 1
- Garlic, 3 cloves
- Olive oil, ¼ cup (divided)
- Salt, 1 tsp (divided)
- Black pepper, ¼ tsp
- Artichoke hearts (quartered), 14 oz
- Spinach (baby, pre-washed, bagged), 1 bag (8 cups)
- White wine, ½ cup
- Vegetable broth, ½ cup
- Lemon, ½ large or 1 small
- Orzo pasta, 1lb
- Feta cheese, 7 oz
- Parsley, ½ small bunch
- Take 5 minutes to get out all your ingredients, measuring and cooking equipment needed, and place them on a cookie sheet within easy reach.
- Bring a large pot of salty water up to a boil for the orzo.
- Dice onion.
- Empty the quartered artichoke hearts, rinse them, drain and set aside.
- Crumble the feta and set aside.
- Rough chop parsley (stems and leaves).
- When water begins to boil, add orzo pasta and cook according to package instructions (about 7-9 minutes). Note: we like to undercook the orzo as we’ll add the pasta to the sauce to finish cooking.
- Saute onion in two tablespoons olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt on medium high heat until translucent (3-4 minutes).
- Add artichoke hearts and continue sauteing for another 3 minutes.
- Next add spinach, garlic, and two more tablespoons olive oil. Stir well to combine.
- Deglaze pan with white wine by pulling the pan off the heat, adding the wine, and then placing the pan back on medium high heat. Use your wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan to stir up any of the good onion bits that stuck to the bottom.
- Add vegetable broth and continue simmering for about five minutes to help concentrate sauce.
- Add another ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and stir.
- Turn off the heat. Add lemon, parsley, and feta and stir.
- Serve in bowls garnished with extra parsley.