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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bigger Heart of the Artichoke Festival

The first time I went to the Artichoke Festival a couple of years back, despite the sautéed artichokes, fried artichoke hearts, artichoke burritos, and grilled artichokes, it still felt like Castroville’s annual adoration of its flagship thistle—even with the waves of live music and the parade, the hot rods and the bounce houses—was missing some ingredients.

After this weekend, I no longer feel that way.

BoldSkateboading ramped up the excitement with free-wheeling talents on loan from the Marina Skate Team and support from team sponsors On the Beach Surf Shop and OTB owner Kelly Sorensen. The Castroville Skate Park was a hive of activity, hosting a multifaceted competition and a range of challenges and demos while Sorensen lent helmets, a DJ boomed music and Marina Recreation Director Terry Siegrist beamed at how magnetic his program has become for a group of kids that doesn't have many incentives remotely as potent to keep them on point—the team took the state skate title this year, besting more than 15 other teams from around California.

The wine-tasting pavilion has aged nicely, filling in more wineries like Bargetto and Otter Cove, from the indomitable Richard Oh (pictured above fielding a live radio interview), who in addition to some new releases, also poured a few fleeting Pinot pours from his up-market Oh label.

The most welcome upgrade, though, was engineered by Prunedale's Marc Jones, owner of event planning-catering-consulting outfit Tasty Solutions (277-2576) and a key food product player at this year's Pebble Beach Food & Wine. He brought in local chefs like Mary Pagan (of the Monterey Culinary Center, above) and Tony Baker (Montrio, below left), who led lively and insightful cooking demos while tolerating iffy emcees like Ray Napolitano and me.

"With a special thing like an artichoke, it made sense to take [the festival] in a cooking direction," Jones said.

Pagan and Baker both did bisques and unloaded a harvest of artichoke ideas. Pagan encouraged folks to microwave steamer bags to cook artichokes easily and accurately—and to use manufactured cream available at Smart and Final to give soups a restaurant velvet finish. Baker pointed out the stem of a 'choke stores more tender heart behind the stringy and easily discarded exterior.

In the tasting pavilion they offered gourmet renditions of artichoke dishes for free, including a smooth and savory arti-veggie soup and an artichoke risotto with rough cut bacon (above) that was artfully textured and dancing with complementary creamy and rich flavors, marking a welcome alternative to the mile-long potato chips and funnel cakes outside. (Not saying you can't still have the wonder that is a hand-dipped corn dog—I too adore them—just saying now there's a choice that wasn't around before.)

Baker starred while his young daughter recorded his performance on an iPhone. His healthy and delicious bread-thickened bisque with no cream or butter had folks lining up for a taste after his demo (above). The recipe appears below.

Finally, there were significantly more arti options in the main food arena than I remember: Think 'choke tamales and fish tacos with artichoke sauce and artichoke cupcakes. And the "ag art" was awesome. (C'mon—nopale cactus paddles for fins? Tell me you don't like that and you'd be lying.)

Same goes for an onion-headed python.

Or a seal in a lifesaver.

Here's the recipe...

Artichoke Sourdough Bisque
by Tony Baker, Montrio Bistro

Servings: 8
Portion Size: 8 fl. oz. ladles
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 30 mins

This is a healthy and delicious soup that is simple to make and can be ready in about 40 mins. The chef does not using any cream or butter just a little olive oil. To thicken the soup instead of using a heavy roux or potatoes, I added just a slice and a half of sourdough bread to thicken 2 quarts of soup.


  • 4 extra large artichokes
  • ½ cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, medium
  • 1 leek
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 3½ oz sourdough bread (1 ½ slices approx)
  • 4 Sage leaves, fresh
  • 1 sprig Thyme, fresh
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Using a sharp serrated knife, trim the artichoke all the way down to the heart. Using a spoon scrape away the fuzzy choke and discard. You can also peel the stem and use that in the soup, since the stem is an extension of the heart. When your artichokes are cleaned, roughly slice.

  2. Wash and roughly chop all of the vegetables.

  3. Heat the oil in a large thick-bottomed pan.

  4. Sweat (to sauté without color) the artichokes, onion, leek, garlic, celery and thyme, until tender.

  5. Add the chicken stock, vegetable stock could also be used.

  6. Gently simmer the soup for 20 Mins.

  7. Add the roughly chopped sourdough bread and sage.

  8. Simmer for a further 3-5 mins

  9. In small batches, puree the soup using either a blender, food processor or immersion blender. A conventional blender should produce a nice smooth creamy soup.

  10. Place all of the soup into a clean saucepan, reheat, check-seasoning (use caution when using canned or packaged broth as they can contain a lot of sodium) Season with fresh ground black pepper.