Saving LA, or The Front Yard Artichoke [RECIPE}

Over the weekend, I was mulling my second list—Nine Ways To Make LA an Ultimate Food City—as well as the comments it provoked, and it occurred to me that by making LA a better food city, we will make it a better city in general.  Cleaner, more prosperous, more just, more accessible, more fun, with healthier, smarter children to boot. Just by focusing on something too many of us see as indulgent—the quality of our food—we can effect great and much-needed changes throughout our whole society. 

Consider this thread: I want to eat plenty of fresh artichokes.  Three years ago I ripped out the front lawn that came with our Venice house, and planted it with artichokes.  I get two crops each year.  Last summer I estimated my artichoke harvest at 130 pounds. Today, looking out my window, I see the plants are ready to bud out.  The goat manure they’ve gobbled—another post on another day—has thickened their ribs and sent their spear-shaped leaves out four fee in each directions. The buds themselves are sweet as Cynar, as delicious raw as cooked.  Here’s the benefit to the city: my food-centric landscaping uses less water—but produces food with the water it does use.  It attracts bees, especially when I let some of the buds blossom, and my front lawn is studded with bursts of blue choke thistle.  I share the harvest with neighbors, many of whom I’ve met as they stop to admire the stretch of farm interrupting the street’s lawn lawn lawn scape. In sum: we eat better, our home looks better, our neighborhood feels closer, and we put less strain on the environment. A better city through better food.

Years ago in an essay, author/eater Jim Harrison called for the betterment of America’s restaurants.  He wanted America to be more like France, where even truck stops served memorable meals. “We’re not necessarily talking the fate of nations here….” he wrote. But maybe we are.  Maybe how we eat has more to do with our city’s and our nations’ fate than we know.  We do know that it directly determines our body’s fate, so why not that of our body politic?  Improve our food, improve our city.  Better food, a better country.  There’s a Green Party, why not a Food Party?  Better yet, a Slow Food Party? Just think about it, a party platform that comes with recipes…

Roasted Artichoke Buds

By the end of the artichoke season, I have bags full of the smaller artichoke buds, and I needed to find a way to clan, cook and serve them quickly, while they were still fresh, but without a lot of hassle.  This is that way.  Eating them is a messy, finger intensive process, the same as picking through Dungeness crab hearts on Fisherman’s Wharf or Chesapeake Bay crabs down by the Potomac in Washington DC.  But um, kosher.  I pick off the smaller buds—though this works for even larger ones—and leave them to soak in salted water for an hour. The earwigs that inevitably crawl out go straight to the chickens.  After a careful rinse,  they are ready to use.

Artichoke Buds

Olive Oil

Fresh Thyme

Fresh Bay leaves

Garlic, crushed

Splash of white wine

Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. In a large roasting pan or tray, toss ingredients together in a proportion that makes sense.  You want to flavor without overpowering, and you want enough oil to shine up each choke.  Cover and place in oven until soft, about 40 minutes.  Remove cover and finish roasting, stirring occasionally, until the edges are brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.

Serve hot, warm or cold.  You eat this by picking off the inedible parts and sucking up the soft meaty ones.