I know Spring is still a few weeks away, but I’m already craving artichokes. And I don’t mean those delicate, painstakingly pruned baby artichokes that are all the rage on upscale restaurant menus around town. I’m talking about the kind I used to shamelessly douse in ketchup and gobble from paper trays during our annual family pilgrimage to The Giant Artichoke.
Every spring break, we would drive up the California coast to spend a quiet week in Monterey County. The beach was deserted and serene, with plenty of shells and driftwood to keep my brother and I occupied all day. But the highlight for me was the trip inland, through miles of gray-green fields, to the sleepy town of Castroville.
Unassuming and quaint, Castroville supplies 100 percent of this country’s artichokes. But the main attraction is a homey farm stand turned tourist mecca with a gigantic artichoke in the parking lot. The roadside landmark is where hoards of travelers flock for all things artichoke. And it’s where, for one week at least, we were happy together, gorging on golden, batter-fried nuggets, time suspended in greasy bliss.
I’ve recreated the recipe, using frozen hearts to save time, and a healthful oil that won’t burn while frying. You can add cayenne pepper or fresh herbs to the batter and substitute seltzer water for beer. Make an extra batch to keep in the freezer, because they are addictive indeed. And perhaps, when you are longing for the warmer, carefree days of Spring, they will satisfy your craving, too.
4-6 cups grapeseed oil (about 1/2-inch deep)
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted and dried well
1-1/4 cups rice flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1 cup light beer (or more if needed)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling (optional)
Ketchup, for dipping (optional)
1. Pour the oil into a heavy pot or cast iron pan (My favorite for frying is the All-Clad Dutch Oven.) and heat over a medium flame until the temperature registers 365° F. on a candy thermometer, or until a small amount of batter sizzles rapidly. To avoid splatters, have a fry cover on hand.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the rice flour, baking powder and sea salt. While whisking, add the egg and beer, and blend until smooth. The mixture should be the consistency of thick, melted ice cream. Add more beer if necessary to thin the batter.
3. Working in small batches, coat the artichokes in batter, drop them into the hot oil one at a time, and deep-fry until golden, 3-4 minutes.
4. Remove the artichokes with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. Allow the oil to come back up to temperature before adding the next batch. Season the artichokes while still warm with sea salt and Parmesan cheese if desired. Serve immediately.
Note: Fried artichokes may be cooled and frozen in freezer bags. Re-warm on a baking sheet at 350° F. until hot and crisp.
If veggie fries are a hit in your house, too, try my Shiitake Mushroom Fries.
Don’t forget to submit a recipe for my March Cooking Contest. You have a great chance of winning some fabulous prizes!
Photo credit: theroamingbelly.blogspot.com