Artichokes are quite a seasonal vegetable, at least in Italy!
Due to the different varieties available the season can last from the Winter to mid Spring, but not in every area every variety is produced or sold, so the season can be a lot shorter.
Here in Northern Le Marche artichoke season is now, in Spring, as you can see from this photo taken in our kitchen garden!
This is also the season for baby artichokes, the side artichokes surrounding a bigger one that will never grow into a big one or the last blossoms on the plant that would not survive the arrival of the warmer weather and would bloom into a big purple fluffy ball if not collected.
They are time consuming to clean and prepare and traditionally used preserved in oil. To make 3 quart jars you need:
6 kg baby artichokes (about 100)… it’s difficult to tell because it depends on how many hard leaves you will have to get rid of.
900 gr vinegar (white or apple)
1100 gr water
4 tbsp coarse salt
Over 1 litre extra virgin olive oil (depends on how tight you pack your preserved baby artichokes
1 big garlic clove
Artichokes oxidate very fast so you usually have a bowl with water and the juice of half a lemon to dip them once they are clean. Since the artichokes will be boiled in water and vinegar, the effect of oxidation will mostly disappear during cooking, so do not worry too much!
Clean the artichokes and leave whole, cut in half or quarters (depending on the size of the artichokes, the size of your jars and your personal taste). Do not worry about the choke since the small artichokes do not usually develop it.
Prepare a big pot with the water, vinegar and salt, bring to a boil and add half of the artichokes. Bring back to a boil and let cook for 5 minutes. Pick out and place in a colander. Drop the second half of the artichokes in the boiling water and vinegar and proceed as before.
Before you finish cooking the second batch, place the cooked baby artichokes on a dishcloth to dry throughly.
When both batches of baby artichokes are dry, move them to a big bowl with a cup of extra virgin olive oil, garlic (cut in slices) and chopped parsley (to taste). Mix throughly and let rest for about 1 hour, mixing again from time to time. This helps the flavours to melt, but, more importantly, the oil to penetrate in every corner of the baby artichokes so that there are no air pockets.
Put the artichokes in jars and add enough olive oil to cover minus a 4 or 5 cm. Move the artichokes in the jar to avoid air pockets and pack tightly. Once the jars are all full use the oil at the bottom of the bowl (and more if needed) to cover the artichokes. The artichokes + oil should leave a couple of cm of air to the lid.
Put in a big pot with cold water, bring to a boil and water bath for 20 minutes.
Make sure that the lid pops once they are cold.
Leave to rest for at least one month.