For any road trip between the Bay Area and O.C., a stop at Pezzini Farms in Castroville is a permanent entry on our itinerary. It’s my favorite source of the main event in the self-described Artichoke Capital of the World, which to me is not an exaggeration in the slightest. Castroville artichokes are a vegetable singularity: they occur only here. A slight, easy detour from Coast Highway leads to a large, open-air farm stand in the middle of artichoke fields. If you stop in during springtime harvest (there’s a smaller crop in fall as well), in the back you’ll see hoppers heaped with artichokes, ready for sorting and shipping. The chlorophyll-green scent of fresh-cut artichoke fills the air, intoxicatingly. And you can buy any size from jumbo to teensy, fresh from the field, not to mention delicious deep-fried hearts from the Choke Coach food truck permanently stationed outside. So far this spring, road trip-wise, we’ve opted for Death Valley’s super bloom (highly recommended) and other desert destinations, but I still miss my NorCal visit. And, my artichokes.
However, there’s an easy remedy. I just received a case of eight jumbos from Pezzini, ordered online and delivered to my door. The price, $30 plus shipping for eight to 10 of the largest size, came to something over $40—only a little more than what I’d pay in a local store, though the vegetables themselves are so not the same. The freshness and flavor is incomparable. During prep, the outer leaves break off cleanly with the most satisfying snap. They also cook quite a bit faster than the ones I buy locally.
So: With lemon at hand to rub over all cut surfaces, pull off the smallest outer leaves, trim the thorns from the large leaves with scissors, and cut an inch or so straight off the top—I like to use my serrated bread knife for this. Cut the stem, leaving half an inch or so, and if you don’t mind a little kitchen superstition, incise an X in the cut base with the tip of a knife. Some people believe the artichoke won’t cook evenly, or at all, without this step. I’ll never know for certain, because I’ve never skipped it. Steam over boiling water in covered pot 45 minutes or so (for jumbos), until a paring knife can pierce without resistance. Feast on the leaves, and eventually the heart, with melted butter or mayonnaise for dipping. Repeat until the end of artichoke season.