Are artichokes mostly a California thing? They are maybe more entertaining than nourishing, but they are one of the standard spring and summer crops in my part of the world, and I have a fine productive plant in my backyard.
I can't claim that artichokes are all there is for dinner; they are a great appetizer prepared several ways, but there just isn't enough there for a main course. They are a luxury food; if they are expensive where you are, eat something else.
I haven't learned yet how long the artichoke plant will produce; so far the crop has been larger AND better tasting every year. I don't get the enormous ones I see in local markets (for $2.99 each!)
The artichoke plant:
In the United States, California provides nearly 100% of the U.S. crop, and about 80% of that is grown in Monterey County; there, Castroville proclaims itself to be "The Artichoke Center of the World", and holds the annual Castroville Artichoke Festival.I am a huge fan of the Castroville Artichoke Festival; one of the bands I play in performs in their parade nearly every year; you'll see pix of me in both the 2002 and 2008 galleries.
The classic way of serving artichokes is to boil them, then dip the starchy parts in mayonnaise, vinaigrette or melted butter. Taking them apart one leaf at a time is kind of cool, and also may require you to adjust the timing of your main course.
The unique thing about going to the Artichoke Festival is finding other great ways of eating them.
The perennial favorite are the French-Fried Artichokes, which is one of the few preparations more unhealthy than the mayonnaise-coated classic, but oh so good. (scroll down about halfway in that recipe link). One that's less fatty and easier to do at home are these Grilled Artichokes:
The idea is to precook the chokes (boil or microwave), then finish on the grill. Allow one medium artichoke per person. This actually requires you to get the cooking time pretty accurate or they'll be too hard to eat or will fall apart too much for the grilling. So you boil for 15 minutes or so until they're barely done, refresh under cold running water or in an ice-water bath until cool enough to handle, cut in half, and scoop out the choke and the pale green inner parts.
The vendor at the festival told me their marinade was soy sauce and balsamic vinegar; I mix it maybe 2 to 1. Marinate the artichoke halves in a ziploc bag or cut side down in a shallow dish for maybe an hour. Grill cut side down for a few minutes, just enough to get some caramelization (as some TV chef says, "pretty grill marks"). The flavors from marinating and grilling reduce the need for additional sauces. The marinade also makes a nice fat-free dipping sauce.