National Artichoke Hearts Day!

You heard me.

The CA State Food.

The CA State Food.

Happy National Artichoke Heart Day

It’s March 16th and you better be loving all things green. Like artichoke hearts. Maybe they’re yellowish beige, for our content here today they’re pale green, from a green plant. For those who are green. We heart these hearts.

We first met a 1000 years ago in Yankee Key West (The CT Shoreline). We both had more hair then, me in a bi-level with a rat’s tail, Arty with a fibrous leafy covering. The chef at LL Chapman’s (more on LL another time) took three little hearts and put them in an oval ramekin. Splashed with white wine they then got a scoop of creamy italian dressing, creamy bleu cheese dressing and two pieces of swiss cheese on top. In that little Love Boat went to the oven. Ten minutes later you had Artichoke Hearts Roman (chef name) my favorite appetizer of the Summer of 1987. I couldn’t believe how easy they were to assemble, how easily they went down. Tasty tasty. The melted cheese on the side of the dish was crusty and delicious. The entire ramekin was sponge cleaned with loaves of hot Italian bread. This was of course back when carbs were something completely different. It was there we first met, in 1987. There went my heart.

Subsequently we’ve dallied together in saute with chicken, we’ve fried in a tasty breading. Arty Choke and I maintain our mutual admiration society to this day. Arty’s and mine latest spin is a great Gluten Free hors d’ oveur. In lieu of a cracker a halved artichoke heart makes a great base for tapenade or hummus or even a grilled shrimp.

So good w/ stuffing and melted cheese.

So good w/ stuffing and melted cheese.

Sometimes when I eat one of these little yummies I hear Celine Dion in the background crooning “……my heart will go on, and on……” and I smile about my rat’s tail.

Food For Thought:

“Almost every artichoke produced in the United States comes from California. Did you know that the town of Castroville, California crowned its first “Artichoke Queen” in 1947? The winner was a young actress named Norma Jean Mortenson who later changed her name to Marilyn Monroe!” National Artichoke Heart Day, punchbowl.com

Salad Days! Tomatillo Salsa Recipe!

A couple lifetimes and botox appointments ago, I was a gardener. I did it for the gladiolus, not as a source of income. Situated in sleepy Westbrook, CT (Yankee Key West) There was this little cottage by the sea with knotty pine. I lived there with Sista Sal in my, ha- ha, salad days. I was an ideal tenant with christmas flaire and a penchant for landscaping. The seasons were (ivy) covered in great style. My gardening included maintaining containers, bulb planting, vegetables, herbs, annuals and perennials. I had this mad idea that the lawn should be covered in daffodils every spring. Each year the lawn got a little closer to Holland. It was great recreation to bring color and produce to our table.

Every year the “Perenial Love Garden” running the length of the property was introduced to new and inspired cast members. Hosta, bleeding hearts, anemone, phlox, allium; we had them all. One magical day friend Robin asked if I wanted some bamboo. Sharing ‘starts’ of new plants is common practice in Yankee Key West. She brought me a couple innocent looking pots. The Garden was going to look so cool.  The bamboo turned out to be a last straw (as it were). I didn’t realize it was so virile. So agro.  Bamboo spreads like a, well, like a bad idea in your early twenties. And it popped up everywhere. The Love Garden, the lawn, the adjacent driveway. The second season it made it’s way into the neighbors yard who assumed it was free white asparagus and served it with lamb one night. 86 the bamboo from the Perennial Love Garden Sista Sal asked. DIO READERS: I moved it to the far corner of my folks yard, thinking the shade would keep it dwarfish. It’s proximity to the marsh brought it a new life. Here’s a pic from a recent visit.

The Last 'Straw'

12 years later, relocated bamboo shields Uno and Due’s beach compound from attackers and paparazzi alike

Twelve years later it looks like a location shot for “Crouching Tiger, Sleeping Dragon”.

I would continue to experiment in my Garden Of Good and Evil. I had a corn period, fail. I got fascinated with castor bean plants, also known as mamones. They were freaky leaved tropicals that grew wicked gnarly (remember, it’s New England) flower buds resembling blackberries. We had to say “No to Mamones”. Mile high sunflowers and  morning glories were a triumph.  I planted broken down fish remnants in the steps of our New England forefathers as an amazing fertilizer. My garden beds came to be the stuff of Johnny Appleseed legends. They could turn it out.

Now I told you that story to tell you this one. Every year the veggie garden got a little bigger, a little more daring. There would always be a featured guest star for each growing season. After Habanero-Hot Summer circa 1977 I thought to cool it down with planting tomatillos. Tomatillos are little fruit popular in mexican cooking.

tonytillio

plant with care and get ready to eat.

Tomatillos grow in this charming little husk that splits open as the fruit ripens. The husks resemble chinese lanterns that I thought would match the bleeding hearts and bamboo in nearby garden beds. They produce a lot of fruit in charming little lanterns. So much so that at you can’t keep up with them as they ripen. So they may have fallen into the soil and rotten. There was so much fruit. I didn’t even think it would matter. Until the next year.

I had moved to new digs a mile away but retained liberal visitation with the Gardens. Sista Sal calls me to come over and see the fruits of my labors. All that fruit seeded the veggie garden, now in her care. Tomatillo plants were popping up all over her well appointed vegetable garden. Bamboo Redux! Almost overnight they spread like crazy. For the remainder of the growing season, there were tomatillos for everyone. Sista Sal, the neighbors, friend Robin, Uno and Due all got there fill of the tasty fruit popular in Mexican cooking. We’d leave them on doorsteps with notes saying “Freshly grown, not to be thrown”. We had to get up on what to do with this bounty, actually I had to get up on what to do with it as Sista Sal had organized a mutiny on the bounty. I had left the garden beds better than I had found them and my fruit needed to be dealt with.

I pickled tomatillos. I fried tomatillos. I baked tomatillos. I made beautiful sauces for enchiladas.

My most successful recipe for the tomatillos was for salsa. People seemed to eat it up. It was easy to assemble and always thought of as a nice gift and not “here comes Tony again with his GD tomatillos”. I thought you might like to give this a try for your summer snacking.

eat this now.

What to do with all that bounty? Salsa lessons.

When you take your first taste please think of a tiny cottage surrounded by little flowers and a madman burying fish carcasses in the backyard. You’ll understand what Sista Sal got to live with and some very special summers.

Taste a Better Life!!!!

Tomatillo Salsa

1 lb. tomatillos chopped

4-5 radishes chopped

1/2 cup red onion chopped

1/2 cup cilantro chopped

1 jalapeno chopped (seeded if you need not sweat)

3 scallions chopped

juice of one lime

1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste.