No matter how far or wide I travel, my strongest memories of wandering are always tethered to the foods that I have tried and savoured. I love stumbling into a city or a region to find that they are famous for a particular dish or ingredient.
Italy has provided me with some of my most memorable traveling food moments. In Puglia, where the wild, rustic olive trees command the horizon, I feasted on handmade orecchiette that the locals served with cime di rapa (broccoli rabe) and garlic, or fresh tomato with ricotta cheese. In Venice, stumbling through laneways will land you in a bacaro where you will relish cicheti - tasty little morsels of seafood, meat or vegetables - to nibble on with a glass of Aperol, Campari or Prosecco. While in Sicily, smoky scamorza, a stretched pear-shaped curd cheese, will add flavour to your pizza and pasta. In Verona, you may find yourself accidentally enjoying horse meat in a stew sophisticatedly named Pastissada de Caval (don’t worry, it was my husband, and not I, who unwittingly ate horse - he quite enjoyed it! J).
In Madrid, their famous sandwich bocadillo de calamares, a crusty bread roll filled with deep fried rings of calamari, is found on practically every street corner. In the south of France, we happily gorged on Carmargue red rice, savouring its chewy texture and nutty flavor. On the Turkish coast, I gluttonously gorged on manti, tiny dumplings smothered in yoghurt sauce.
The world, in all its bottomless diversity and wonder, never fails to deliver unforgettable food memories. When my family and I toured the Californian Coast last Christmas, we didn’t expect to find many regional food traditions. But as we drove down the 101, from San Francisco towards Big Sur and beyond, we noticed many roadside signs hawking deep-fried artichokes. My interest was piqued. A bit of research told me that a nearby town called Castroville, in Monterey county, calls itself the “artichoke capital of the world”. The town started producing artichokes in the 1920s when Swiss Italian immigrants enthusiastically planted not only artichokes, but also wine vineyards. Castroville even stages its own Artichoke Festival every year. This story resonated with me strongly. I have always adored the single-minded, intense celebration of one magnificent vegetable. But I also cherish this simple story of immigrants bringing such positive, enduring and delicious change to the American culinary landscape. Important to remember during times like these.
For the next two days, as we stayed in nearby towns of Carmel-by-the-Sea and San Luis Obispo, we did indeed feast on artichoke. Sometimes the whole head was simply steamed and served with lashings of olive oil and sea salt. But most often they were deep-fried and accompanied with aioli. Today’s recipe is my own version of fried globe artichoke. Rather than a traditional batter, I have used chickpea flour to gently coat the artichoke as I love the rich, nutty flavor. Chickpea flour tends to brown very quickly when fried, so I have briefly pan-fried them, and then roasted them in the oven to give them extra time to soften inside. I also whipped up a quick sriracha aioli to add a hit of creamy spice.
And while I’m here, I wanted to share some photos from this aforementioned Californian adventure. As I mentioned, we started our journey in San Francisco, and drove down Highway One, through stunning Big Sur. Big Sur is surely one of the most stunning spots in the world. The jagged mountains with dramatic drops into the Pacific Ocean just floored me. The whole Cali coast did remind us a lot of the Australian landscape - the burnished colours of the grasslands, the shape of the hills, the light of the coast and the azure seas, did make us feel like we were home. From Big Sur, we ventured to Santa Barbara where we stayed at the Montecito Inn, our favourite hotel of the whole trip. I didn’t know this prior to our visit, but Santa Barbara was the movie making capital, before Hollywood. Most of the movie production companies were once based there and Charlie Chaplin loved the area so much that, in 1928, he and some investors built the Montecito Inn as an upscale getaway. It was also the location of his 1943 wedding to Oona O’Neill. Today, the hotel is incredibly understated and retains its vintage charm. We loved it.
We ended our trip in Palm Springs. I fulfilled a life-long dream to visit Joshua Tree National Park, where the mystic allure of nature and the quiet air of the park really moved me. I am constantly grounded by the extreme beauty found in the American landscape. During these tough socio-political times, looking to nature, engaging with the world around us, and embracing the simplicity of just ‘being’, are the only tangible antidotes to the turmoil of bigotry and hate.
Twice-cooked artichokes with sriracha aioli
This recipe is gluten free and vegan. I used my favourite vegan mayonnaise brand Vegenaise, which is, in my opinion, one of the yummiest mayos out there, vegan or not.
Serves 4 as a snack or 2 can enjoy with extra salad leaves as a main dish
- 4 globe artichokes
- ¾ cup chickpea (garbanzo) flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil (or other neutral oil)
- 1-2 cups salad leaves
- sea salt and black pepper
Vegan sriracha aioli
- ½ cup vegan mayonnaise such as Vegenaise
- 1 large-ish (or 2 small) clove garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp sriracha sauce
Preheat oven to 350˚F / 180˚C.
Prepare a bowl of acidulated water – water with lemon/lime juice – to keep the artichoke from browning.
One at a time, remove the outer leaves of the artichoke until you get to the tender yellow leaves. Slice off about 1-2 inches off the top of the leaves, or enough to remove the tough tips. Cut them in half vertically and, using a spoon, scoop out the hairy choke. Repeat for both halves and place in the bowl of citrus water. Do the same with the rest of the artichokes.
In a medium bowl, combine the chickpea flour, salt, and paprika and mix well. Drain the artichokes and drizzle over the olive oil – toss to coat the artichokes well. Roll each piece of artichoke in the chickpea flour mixture until well coated.
In a skillet, heat the sunflower oil and when hot, add the artichoke pieces, one at a time. Turn the pieces until each side is golden. Place the pan-fried artichoke into a baking tray and place in the preheated oven. Roast for 15 minutes or until the artichoke is tender.
To make the sriracha mayonnaise, whisk together all the ingredients.
To serve, place the salad leaves on a plate and top with the artichokes. Serve the sriracha mayo on the side, or drizzled over the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.