Grown in the Mediterranean for centuries, artichokes were brought to California's central coast and Central Valley by Italian and French families in the early 20th century. Today most of the United States' artichokes are grown near Castroville in California, and it's no surprise that the artichoke figures largely in both Mediterranean and California cuisines.
The vegetable is delicious in all its guises, but small, tender baby artichokes ― widely available this month at grocery stores and produce and farmers' markets ― are particularly good.
Though they're called babies, these little artichokes are actually fully mature (albeit small and tender) artichokes that have grown low on the stalk, in the shade of the frondlike leaves of the artichoke plant. Unlike their larger siblings, whose higher placement on the stalk exposes them to the sun, baby artichokes are rendered entirely edible with just a little trimming. This season, try them stewed with spring lamb and white beans, caramelized in a rich pasta with leeks and prosciutto, or roasted and dressed with lemon and mint in a simple salad.