Every year, when "baby" artichoke season comes around, I get excited. I think, "maybe this year, they'll be tender and fresh and all I expect in a young, just-plucked veggie." What I'm really thinking is, "maybe these will taste like those I eat in Italy." People, let me just be candid. You canNOT, unless you grow them yourself, get artichokes in the U.S. like those you find in Italia. Most of that issue is type. Here, in the U.S., farmers predominantly grow the California Green Globe varietal. You know it! It's big, green, is great for steaming, and if you get to the heart, yee-ha, you've reached a delicious, albeit initially hirsute, prize.
But, if you want to eat fresh artichokes raw, the Globe is definitely not for you. If you want a tender young thing whose leaves you can chiffonade and stir into a risotto or pasta, do not think you can successfully complete that plan with a Globe. They are way too fibrous, hairy and tough for such delicate intentions.
The current "babies" available in our region are simply small Globes. I have finally come to accept this, although admittedly, it took a final attempt at fritto misto today to recognized the Globe's limitations. For pinsimonio (the wonderful Tuscan appetizer of fresh, raw veggies cut and dipped into salted olive oil) and that risotto I mentioned (and once made and nearly choked [hah, 'choked' on]), nothing I've been able to get in the States comes remotely close to a win.
Looking at these, you might think, as did I, surely something so small and sweet will be tender. Size and ease-of-chew definitely seem to correlate, but again, not with i carciofi. Sigh.
I trimmed, acidulated, placed gently into a hell-hot cast-iron pan studded with garlic and accessorized with thinly shaved lemons, delicate halves of these artichokes. I showered them with salt and Parmesan when they emerged, steamy hot and golden-burned on both sides, from the pan. The flavors were there, but the texture was not. Sad, readers, sad.
And as if it were fated, I then made the most underwhelming quesadillas ever, since that crappy batch on Superbowl night. Note to self: Em, you suck at quesadillas!
PS- An interesting article on artichoke varieties is available from Saveur, here.