Artichokes. Why the first guy ate one is a big question. Perhaps one of the ancient Greeks mistook them for something new and trendy. Who knows? Most animals except humans shun wild artichokes.
Spring is artichoke season and cooks all over the world, even self-proclaimed locavores like me, can’t wait to get our hands on them to celebrate the prickly thistles from California. Although there are quite a few different types, the Globe artichoke is generally the variety we see most in our markets. They are big and meaty and work well in many recipes. Choose the ones that are heaviest, with centers that are tight and look fresh (though a few discolored leaves are OK). Give them a quick squeeze. If they’re fresh they will often squeak. In the kitchen, after cutting the artichokes, put them right on to cook or rub them with a cut lemon so they don’t turn brown.
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My wife Fiona is a self-proclaimed purist when it comes to artichokes. She likes them steamed with a squeeze of lemon and sprinkled with salt. Sometimes she adds melted butter. Dip the leaf in the butter, scrape off the teaspoon of meat with your two front teeth and finally, soak up the last of the butter with the heart. Artichoke simplicity is perfection.
But I like to do more. By far my favorite main course artichoke is stuffed with breadcrumbs, shallots, garlic, herbs, and Parmesan. When the leaves are dipped in aioli spiked with anchovy, the result is a rich dish that is as satisfying a dinner as you can make.
Although it isn’t the traditional method, I like to break the cooking up into two steps. First, I boil the artichokes with salt and lemon until they are tender but not overcooked, then let them drain well and cool. Removing the “choke’ at this stage is really easy. Then half an hour before I’m ready to eat, I stuff them and put them in a hot oven and let the breadcrumb mixture add flavor. Dip a leaf in the aioli, take a bite, and you get artichoke infused with the slightly crisp breadcrumbs. You can omit the anchovies from the aioli but it is really one of the best flavor combinations ever, thanks to the Italians.
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Recipe for stuffed artichokes with anchovy aioli
At the end of May, for the past 50 years or so, the tiny town of Castroville, Calif., has had a festival dedicated to the celebration of all things artichoke. Many people gather, wine and beer flows, and artichokes are consumed with abandon. Marilyn Monroe was once named their honorary Artichoke Queen. What more do you need to know?
You can go with Fiona’s ascetic approach or follow my lead and really indulge.
Gordon Hamersley can be reached at [email protected]