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As the spring markets open up, we'll start seeing some old friends. The artichoke is coming back for a few weeks, and it's a time to enjoy this surprisingly versatile vegetable.  And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino jokes, a lot of people just sort of look at an artichoke and say, "yeah, what do I do with it?"

Well, quite a lot actually. First the anatomy. An artichoke is actually a thistle flower that hasn't blossomed.  It has multiple layers of leaves with significant flesh at their base, clustered sightly around the thistle down "choke" which is inedible. The principle producers are Spain, France, Italy, California and Mexico.

Get a recipe for stuffed artichokes below. 

There are two main types: Globe Artichokes and Elongated Artichokes.

Globe artichokes are the familiar fat, round artichokes most frequently seen in stores. They produce heavy, 4-5” (10-13 cm) artichokes.

‘Green Globe’ (Open pollinated, 90-100 days) is the original globe type artichoke that produces 3-4 large, 3-5” (8-13 cm), heavy heads over the course of the summer. Globe artichokes have thick, delicious, creamy hearts. Plants are hardy in zones 7 and above and can produce for 5 years.

‘Imperial Star’ (Open pollinated, 85 days) is bred for annual production the first year from seed and is the best globe artichoke for gardeners in zones 1-6. Produces 6-8 mature buds, each 3-4” (8-10 cm) in diameter. Plants are 3-4’ (1-1.2 meters) tall and as wide.

‘Violetto’   (Elongated variety.  Open pollinated, 85-100 days) is an Italian heirloom artichoke that produces elongated, 3” (8 cm) wide by 5” (13 cm) long artichokes, tinged with violet on the bracts. Produces 6-8 main buds, then dozens of ‘baby’ chokes later in the season. Very little choke if harvested young and tight.

Here's an easy recipe to try.                                 

Stuffed Artichokes

6 whole artichokes

3 cups bread crumbs

6 cloves garlic, minced plus 6 whole cloves

2 lemons, zest & juice

1 bunch Italian Parsley, Chopped

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup grated Romano cheese

Olive oil

White wine

Snip the pointed tips of artichoke leaves and cut off the stems. Reserve the stems. Wash and drain. Holding artichoke firmly by base, firmly rap the top of it on a hard surface; this will open it so it can be stuffed.

In a medium bowl combine bread crumbs, minced garlic, lemon zest, parsley and the cheeses, mix well. Press about 1/2 cup of stuffing into each artichoke. Finish all the stuffing evenly amongst all artichokes. In a large Dutch oven, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and add the whole garlic cloves and stems. Cook until aromatic, about 5 minutes, add the lemon juice and a few cups of wine.  Cook until this comes to a boil.  Tightly pack stuffed artichokes together and add enough water to reach about 1 inch up the artichokes. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered for about three hours or until an outside leave pulls off easily. Serve with extra virgin olive for drizzling.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.