What’s in the Box:
Cucumbers-green & blonde
Purple or Yellow wax beans
French crisp lettuce
Family shares also include:
Bok choy, green onions; more potatoes & artichokes
After years of disappointment growing artichokes as perennials and losing up to 70% each winter, and after the great Choke mistake of 2009 when our farm manager planted our chokes one foot apart rather than the usual three, we have started growing artichokes as an annual crop. We plant them two feet apart in the row with rows five feet apart. By early August there is a sea of chokes, and by the end of September there is a jungle.
A jungle as in; can you spot my daughter in this picture?
By planting them as an annual we avoid the stress of trying to baby them over winter and we still get a healthy crop every year. The chokes are one of my favorite crops. They provide an opportunity for me to feel wealthy in that I can pick and choose only the smallest and most tender chokes, then trim them wastefully down to the most tender leaves and heart and eat a plateful if I so desire. My daughter Natalina will commonly eat five of these baby chokes in a sitting.
I grew up eating things like artichokes and dandelion and a host of other bitter greens and wacky dried fish and other traditional Italian fare. My father would forage wild onions and mushrooms and had a garden that produced an endless variety of sharp greens that I would turn my nose up at at the dinner table. His pat response, "you don't know what good is". I remember having dinner on the porch of our house when I was young. We would be seated at 5pm every evening at the white painted table on the screened porch. Just before my mother would bring the dinner from the kitchen, she would turn to my father and ask, "Father, would you make the dressing?", and place a bottle of vinegar, and a bottle of olive oil on the table. My father mixed the dressing at the table using just those two things and the salt and pepper from the table.
I eventually launched a successful campaign to liberate my self from the tyranny of my father's palate. I petitioned for iceberg lettuce and a bottle of Kraft Catalina dressing. I do not recall how long it took but I do remember a special tupperware container in the fridge with my lettuce and I can still picture the bottle of dressing. I mention this because, as Heidi has mentioned before, I take this out on our CSA customers occasionally by including dandelion and radicchio. And one more thing; one of my favorite responses to the question of "where can you get a 'real' traditional Italian meal?" is "What do you mean? Dried fish and song birds?"
I guess that sounds a little smart Alecky, but look at the true Italian fare. Meat is a small portion, Italian cattle are not what we in America picture as healthy animals. Bitter greens almost always accompany a meal. Song birds are still a guilty pleasure in most of Europe. My friend Eugenio once said in conversation: " Ahh, Americans...They like the cheesa to moova." What he meant was that Americans wanted enough cheese on top of their meal that it jiggled. My father always favored many small portions over the tremendous servings we have grown accustomed to. One of his most frequent critiques of family dinners was that there was simply too much food. With the exception of pasta, when it came to pasta he always told me to take a large first helping because seconds never tasted as good. But I digress.
I am always surprised by how many people have not eaten them before. I am even more surprised by the fact that anyone ever ate one in the first place. They are a huge flower bud of a plant that closely resembles a thistle and do not look particularly appetizing.
The easiest way to fix them is to simply trim them of any damaged leaves and place them in a double boiler or on a steam rack. Have the water at a rolling boil before adding the chokes. Steam them until the outer leaves can be easily pulled off using a set of tongs. Try not to over cook them as they will get mushy. To eat them; melt some butter with just a hint of garlic; like one small minced clove. When the choke is cool enough to handle start on the outside and remove one leaf at a time, dip the butt of the leaf in the melted butter, stick the leaf in your mouth and slide it out scraping the leaf with your teeth. Wow that sounds weird. There is a bit of meat at the base of leaf that will come off and, well I cannot really describe it. Fresh chokes typically will not have a developed "choke" (the fuzz at the bottom of the bud), and once you have eaten a few layers of leaves you may well be able to pop the remainder in you mouth like Liz Taylor. The heart and base of the stem are an outrageous treat. I always prefer chokes before dinner, I believe there is something in them that stimulates the taste buds and makes whatever comes next taste even better.
In contrast to the usual bachelor recipe based on ease and simplicity I want to recommend one of my favorite dishes using chokes. I will describe the ideal but cannot promise that you will receive the chokes that will work best, or even that these chokes are available to anyone but a farmer or the savvy market shopper.
Take enough baby chokes of equal size (ideally about the size of a ping pong ball) to fit tightly on end in a small cast pan. Trim them hard down to tender blanched leaves. Trim the tops of all spines and sharp edges (you are going to put the whole thing in your mouth). Steam until they are just tender-do not over cook. Place a small cast pan on medium heat with a smattering of olive oil and enough rock salt to have a crumb about every 1/2 inch. Take the chokes one by one and mash them into place in the pan; butts up and fit nice and tight. Force them enough that they open slightly. Sear them in the oil for just a few minutes until they brown slightly. Place a plate of equal size to the pan face down on the pan as you would a lid. Place your fingers on the plate to hold it in place and flip the whole thing over so the chokes are arranged right side up on the plate. Remove the pan, sprinkle sparingly with a good quality hard cheese and serve immediately.