As we wind down the Tour of California, I had to end on a high note (much like the Mt. Baldy climb) and feature what I think is a phenomenal recipe. But, first, a little background on the main ingredient – the artichoke. When thinking about the artichoke, most people find them to be a bit fussy to deal with. In fact, the lady and scholar, Miss Piggy, once summed this up quite nicely, “These things are just plain annoying. After all the trouble you go to, you get about as much actual “food” out of eating an artichoke as you would from licking 30 or 40 postage stamps. Have the shrimp cocktail instead.”
Before you pick up your shrimp fork, give artichokes a chance (especially with the recipe below).
California is overflowing with artichokes. Due to its ideal growing conditions, the city of Castroville, California has even declared itself the “Artichoke Capital of the World” and hosts the yearly Artichoke Festival – which happens to be going on this weekend. By the way, the first Castroville Artichoke Queen back in 1947 was none other than Marilyn Monroe. (Couldn’t find a picture of her as Artichoke Queen, but, did find a pic of Ms. Monroe on a bicycle…a little more appealing that Miss Piggy on a bike, no?)
Artichokes made their way to California in 1922 – about 25 years before Monroe was crowned. Andrew Molera, who lived in Monterey County California, leased his land to Italian farmers. Trying to make a little bit more money, he convinced them to grow a “new vegetable”, which would be the artichoke, rather than the sugar beets he was previously growing there. The Italian farmers were able to get more money on the market for the artichokes and thus Molera could charge higher rent to them. Now, California provides nearly 100% of the artichoke crop for the United States.
Let’s get down to some cooking…
Sure, you can save some time steaming the artichokes in the microwave, but I happened to be cooking some other stuff at the same time so I went with the boil on the stove method described below. You could also save some time by using a can of artichoke hearts but you won’t get the freshness nor the ability to use the leaves to scoop up and eat this dip.
This dip is packed full of cheesy goodness and the dill adds a fresh and bright flavor. Peter Stetina who is currently riding for Team Garmin-Cervelo in the Giro, probably won’t be eating this dip as part of his daily race eating regimen due to all the cheese. But, I’d definitely invite him, or any other pro-cyclist, to come over during the off-season and I’ll make this for them. It’s pretty addictive and pretty durn good.
Hot Artichoke and Dill Dip
- 4 medium globe artichokes (about 10 ounces each), preferably with stems attached
- 1½ cups (6 ounces) shredded havarti or Monterey Jack
- ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ¾ cup mayonnaise (I made this recipe by splitting this 1/2 fat-free mayonnaise and 1/2 fat-free Greek yogurt)
- 2 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 1 garlic clove, crushed through a press
- 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs (whirl crusty bread in the blender or food processor)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the artichokes and place a heatproof bowl or plate on top to keep them submerged.
Working with one artichoke at a time, pull off the leaves until you reach the thin core of very tender leaves. Place the leaves in a plastic bag and refrigerate to serve with the dip, if desired. Pull off the core to reveal the heart. Using a dessert spoon, scoop out and discard the fuzzy choke. Using a small sharp knife, trim off any tough skin from the hearts and the stems, if attached (the inner stem has the same flavor as the heart).
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on the dip and drizzle with the oil. Bake until the dip is bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes (longer if it’s been refrigerated). Serve hot. Make-Ahead: The dip can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, then baked just before serving.