I’ve always loved artichokes. It may have something to do with the fact that any time I’ve eaten an artichoke, there’s always another rich ingredient involved, whether that’s mayonnaise, butter, oil, or cheese. Growing up, I dipped the leaves of the steamed artichoke in plain mayonnaise, scraping the soft bit at the bottom of the leaves with my teeth. At a friend’s, I ate grilled artichoke drizzled with lemon butter, at home, marinated artichoke hearts from a jar full of olive oil. And of course there’s always the wonderful spinach-artichoke dip that adds in cream cheese and Parmesan cheese.
But it’s not just the fattening toppings that make artichokes great. There’s something special about them—not only do they look unique, but the way they’re eaten is also unusual. Artichokes are thistles, plants whose flowers develop into large, edible buds. And the first person to figure out that this scary looking thing was edible? They were brave. I love the earthy flavor of artichokes, and after recently learning that they are full of fiber and antioxidants, I feel even better about eating them.
Last year we planted an artichoke plant in our garden, which produced one large artichoke and one mini artichoke. However, I left both on the plant too long, and they developed purple flowers at the top, becoming inedible. The master gardener at the Vineyard Farmer’s Market said this particular plant would bear three artichokes the first year, ten the next year, and possibly more in the years after that. With the plant now in its second year, I have high hopes for my ten artichokes (though they haven’t yet to make their appearance).
Though we’ve been using a gas grill for years, after the excellent dinner Jan cooked with an original Weber in Los Osos (see Favorite day in Morro Bay), he had to buy his own, and has been having fun lately using charcoal to barbecue just about anything. I was skeptical of the artichokes that had been steamed to cook about two-thirds of the way (about 30 minutes), then sliced in half and finished on the grill. But of course, they were excellent with the added flavor from the charcoal.
Still, my favorite way to eat them is the simple way. I cut the stem to leave about an inch at the bottom, cut an inch off the top, and use scissors to cut the sharp points from the leaves. Then the artichokes are placed stem-side up in a steamer basket and left to steam for about 50 minutes. The artichokes are done when the lower leaves can be removed easily and are tender.
And continuing to keep things simple, the artichokes are served with balsamic-lemon mayonnaise, whose title reveals three of the sauce’s four ingredients. Despite all the delicious possible ways to eat an artichoke, in my opinion, this is the easiest and best.
To be served alongside steamed or grilled artichokes
- 5 heaping tablespoons light mayonnaise
- ¼ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir well.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.