The isles of the Lagoon of Venice, and the Venetian coastal area is famous for its high quality castraure (baby artichokes). They are much smaller than Globe or Roman artichokes, and because of their size, they are very tender and flavorful.
The castraure are the first buds to come from the plant each year. A single artichoke plant produces more than one hundred hearts of artichokes. The most famous island for castraure production is the isle of Isola di Sant'Erasmo.
St. Erasmus is the largest island in the Venetian lagoon, only sparsely populated. In Venice's countryside, this agricultural area produces the renowned castraure. Unlike all of Venice’s canals and buildings, St. Erasmus’s landscape is flatlands with rural farms and homes; a pleasant change from the St. Marks Square crowds.
Although castraure are only a spring time delight and hard to get outside the markets of Venice, there is an ample supply of Globe Artichokes in the U.S. from Castroville, Monterey County CA. Including soon to be available frost-kissed. Yes just as good, but somehow not quite the same as when I eat them canal side in Italy!
Select plump and heavy artichokes for the size with thick, green, tightly clinging leaves.
It's ideal if you can get “frost-kissed artichokes". Fall and winter artichokes are usually darker or bronze-tipped with a whitish, blistered appearance because of frost, so-called "winter-kissed." These are the most tender with intense flavor. Look for tender green on the inside of petals. Frost-kissed artichokes are available only when temperatures in the growing area falls below 32 degrees.
Cut baby artichokes lengthwise into two parts, then split into wedges. Toss artichokes in paper bag with flour, remove from bag and dip in gently beaten egg whites. Then dip in beaten egg yolks seasoned with pinch of fresh thyme, sea salt and black pepper. Put the yolk covered artichokes back in paper bag with more flour. Shake off excess flour and gently lay the pieces one by one in a pan with hot oil. When they are golden color remove.
Serve immediately with fresh lemon wedges and lemon aioli.
My Classic Aïoli Recipe
chefgeorgehirsch.com | from George Hirsch Living it UP! cookbook
*8 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
Coarse sea salt
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
A couple drops of water
Fresh ground black pepper
Always use caution with raw eggs. And this sauce must be kept chilled after it is prepared.
In a food processor or preferably a mortar pound the garlic cloves with pinch of sea salt and Dijon mustard until a thick paste forms. Add in the egg yolks and begin adding in the olive oil a few drops at a time with a fork or whisk. Continue to add the olive oil in a steady stream as the aïoli begins to thicken. Stop and add a few drops of lemon juice, gradually add remaining olive oil and a few drops of water if the sauce becomes too thick. When all of the oil has been incorporated, season the aïoli with additional lemon juice, sea salt and pepper to taste.
Serve chilled. The aïolii can be tightly covered and refrigerated overnight.
*A classic aïoli is made with raw garlic but again I prefer using caramelized garlic in place of raw garlic which offers a much sweeter and nuttier taste.