Queen of hearts

Henri celebrates California’s official vegetable

photo by joyosity (via flickr)

Mon père, Etienne Alain Bourride, loved artichokes, and in 1985, after an earnest but undistinguished career as a professor of French film and literature at a small Midwestern college, he retired and returned to France, where he planted some 6 acres of his favorite variety, the violet de Provence. He lived out the last years of his life as he probably should have lived the rest of it, as an artichoke farmer.

He died one April evening a decade ago after having spent the day harvesting in his beloved fields. Mother says he poured himself a tall glass of Bordeaux, put two artichokes on to steam and sat back to watch the evening news. Apparently, the hearts of his violets were healthier than his own. He never got back up.

Though I hadn’t seen him in nearly 20 years, and our relationship was, well, strained, I still miss him dearly and will always have him to thank for the path my life has taken—though it wasn’t, he’d insist, the path he’d imagined for his only son. He was, after all, the one who first took me as a young boy to see Some Like It Hot.

If my father were alive today, I’d insist on a reunion. I’d invite him out to California, and together we’d drive down to Castroville, where we’d celebrate not only artichokes, but also the only thing we ever really had in common, our love of Marilyn Monroe, who, in 1948, was named the Castroville Artichoke Festival’s first honorary Artichoke Queen.

A member of the sunflower family and native to the Mediterranean, the artichoke—al-khurshuf in Arabic—was popular in early Rome but then virtually disappeared until the mid-1600s, when Catherine de Medici brought it from Italy to France, the home of her husband, Henry II.

Recognizing the ideal, Mediterranean-like climate of the central California coast, Italian immigrants established California’s first artichoke farm in the late-19th century near Half Moon Bay. Today, California produces nearly 100 percent of the country’s commercial artichoke crop, and in 2013 it was declared the state’s official vegetable.

The most common California artichoke is the green globe, recognizable by its thorny leaves and purple flowers. However, farmers and University of California scientists have been experimenting with other varieties, including the imperial star, which is not only thornless but matures sooner and produces a higher yield. Studies, however, have shown that consumers prefer the green globe for its meatier leaves and bigger heart.

Artichokes are cooked and eaten in a range of ways. Fresh, they’re stuffed, baked and braised, and of course year-round the marinated hearts are the perfect complements to bean-and-pasta salads and antipasto plates. Additionally, modern chefs are using them in a variety of salads—including artichokes browned in olive oil and served with fava beans and shallots, and sliced raw and tossed with arugula and fresh, grated Parmesan.

Still, the best way to enjoy an artichoke is in its pure form, steamed, one leaf at a time. My father loved them with bay shrimp and aioli, a classic Mediterranean egg-yolk-and-olive-oil, mayonnaise-like dressing. Here’s to you and me, mon père, a couple of misfits.

Artichokes with bay shrimp and aioli


Four artichokes

1/2 lb. cooked bay shrimp

2 egg yolks

1 cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Lemon juice


With kitchen shears, trim sharp points from outer leaves of artichokes and cut stem to within a half-inch of the base. Steam upside down until stem is tender to a fork. Allow to cool.

In medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and then gradually stir in the olive oil. Add the crushed garlic, and lemon juice and salt to taste. Add the bay shrimp.

Spoon out the inner leaves of the artichoke and fill each “bowl” with the shrimp-and-aioli mixture. Dip artichoke leaves into the mixture, making sure that each has at least one shrimp on it.