Though my Marcona almond splurge may suggest otherwise, I'm a frugal person. Not a die-hard bargain hunter exactly, but I appreciate a good deal as much as the next gal. So when Donna the artichoke farmer was selling her wares at the farmers' market on Sunday, I did a double-take when I saw the price. Baby artichokes were going for $1 a pound. That's right: $1 a pound. Now, I'm no dimwit. Gas has suddenly surged to $4.29 a gallon, and if I could've filled my tank up with artichokes I would have. Plus, my friend Jen would be visiting, and there's nothing that says, "Thanks for coming. Don't you wish you lived in California?" like a platter of fried baby artichokes.
Frying them wasn't even my idea; it was Donna's. Donna sells squash in the winter and artichokes in the spring, and I'm just dying to sit down with her and pick her brain. I don't know her from Adam, but I have this urge to take her to lunch. You know, chat her up. I've made up this whole story about her, probably because she's always smiling. I imagine her husband pouring her tea and helping her load artichokes into the truck for her pre-dawn drive from Castroville ("the artichoke center of the world") to San Jose. She's definitely not a coffee drinker, that Donna. I'm just sure she drinks tea.
I could always just ask her, I suppose, and as a food writer I could probably even invite myself to her farm and shadow her for a few hours. And maybe one day I will. For now, though, I'm content to remain her anonymous, but very loyal, customer.
Recipe for Fried Baby Artichokes with Parmesan and Lemon
It's essential to use baby artichokes in this recipe, so I hope you can find them near you. The prep work and frying take a little time, so find someone to keep you company.
1 pound baby artichokes (about 10-12)
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt, plus additional for sprinkling after frying
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Parmesan cheese and additional lemon wedges, for serving
Create a citrusy bath by squeezing the lemon half into a large bowl of cold water.
Trim the baby artichokes: Pull off and discard the green outer leaves. Eventually you will come to a point where the leaves are tender and soft, half green and half yellow. Use a sharp, heavy knife to cut off the top (green) portion of the vegetable, where the yellow meets the green. Slice the stem level with the base and trim off any wayward leaves from the base. Slice the artichoke in half lengthwise. Use a small knife to remove any purplish leaves or any bits of fuzz. Place the artichoke halves in the lemon water.
Repeat until you've prepped all the artichokes.
Heat 1/2-inch of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until very hot.
Meanwhile, combine the flour, 1 teaspoon of the salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a medium bowl. Remove 3 or 4 of the artichoke halves from the lemon water and pat dry, then dredge in the flour mixture.
When the oil is hot, lower the artichokes into the saucepan and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side, flipping once or twice as they bob so they cook evenly. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate and immediately season with a little salt.
Repeat with remaining artichoke halves, adjusting the heat as necessary.
To serve, shower the fried artichokes with a generous mound of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a good dose of lemon. Serve immediately.