Did you know that the artichokes we eat are actually the plant’s flower bud? I love artichokes. I have steamed, simmered, baked and grilled them. In the summer months, there is nothing more delightful than a simple cooked artichoke. I can peel away the layers and dip the leaves in a savory summer sauce. And then comes the prize: the heart. You’ll find two delicious sauces to choose from here.
You might be interested to know that America’s entire commercial artichoke crop is grown on just over 9,000 acres concentrated in only five California counties. Monterey County grows three-quarters of California’s artichoke crop and ships out almost 4 million cartons across the country every year. There is even an annual artichoke festival each May in Castroville, the self-proclaimed artichoke capital of the world.
Make sure to select globe artichokes that have tight, compact heads and tiny thorns. Don’t worry if they are a little brown, which can result from a light frost before harvesting. I like to serve these at a casual dinner, along with small bowls on the table for guests to discard the finished leaves.
Artichoke halves make perfect containers for your favorite sauce. You can make these a day before and refrigerate them. In this recipe, a tangy vinaigrette dressing, with the addition of summer herbs, adds a pleasant and refreshing finish. The Red Pepper Aioli offers a slightly spicy, creamy alternative. Other alternatives include roasted-garlic mayonnaise, sun-dried-tomato yogurt dip, or spinach-and-cucumber sour-cream dressing. If you prefer a lighter sauce, combine fresh tomato salsa with sour cream and lime juice for a Mexican-style sauce.
• Use a serrated spoon or small tongs to remove the hairy inner choke.
• The aioli or vinaigrette can be prepared up to five days ahead and refrigerated.
• You can also serve your favorite chicken, egg or tuna salad in the center of the heart for an entree dish. Have some Summer Vinaigrette on hand for dipping the leaves.
• Recommended wine: Although artichokes are thought to be unfriendly to wine, a dry chenin blanc or spicy sauvignon blanc goes nicely with this dish.
Chilled Artichoke Halves With Two Sauces
3 large globe artichokes
3 slices of lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the sharp points off the artichoke leaves with kitchen shears. Remove the small, dry outer leaves from around the base of the artichoke. Cut off the stem 1 inch from the bottom of each artichoke.
Soak the artichokes in cold water for at least 15 minutes to clean them.
To cook: Place the artichokes upright in a large pan with about 4 inches of water, lemon slices and olive oil. Cook on medium heat for 30 to 45 minutes, partially covered, or until the leaves pull off easily. Bring the artichokes to room temperature; then cut them in half.
Scoop out the choke with a teaspoon, and discard. Place artichokes in a storage container. Just before serving, arrange the halves on serving plates, and spoon a couple of tablespoons of vinaigrette or aioli into each half, and serve.
Makes about 3/4 cup
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small mixing bowl, combine the shallot, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, basil, chives and parsley. Whisk to combine and slowly add the oil until thoroughly blended. Add salt and pepper, and taste for seasoning. Place in a tightly covered container. Refrigerate and remove a half-hour before serving to thin the dressing.
Red Pepper Aioli
Makes 1 1/4 cups
4 garlic cloves
1 roasted, peeled, seeded and finely chopped medium red bell pepper (Bottled are OK, but make sure to rinse them well.)
1 cup mayonnaise
Salt and white pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
With the motor running, add the garlic cloves to a food processor fitted with the metal blade, and process until pureed. Add the red pepper, and process until well blended. Add the mayonnaise, and process. Add the salt, pepper and cayenne, and taste for seasoning.
Refrigerate the sauce in a tightly covered container until serving time.
Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including Seriously Simple Holidays, and is a James Beard award-winning radio-show host. Contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.