Eat more flowers! Springtime is a perfect time to celebrate with colorful, delicate petals and flowers. We love to garnish with the tender blossoms of herbs like rosemary, sage or basil. Bright and flavorful squash blossoms are another favorite this time of year. But one edible flower is not delicate at all, it is sharp, strong and knobby: the humble yet magnificent artichoke.
The artichoke is the edible bud of a plant in the thistle family. In California, artichoke farms dot the coastline, and many people have the jurassic-looking plants in their home gardens. Growing up, we often ate them as a seasonal vegetable side with dinner. Fresh artichokes were always prepared the same way: boiled until tender and served with a dipping sauce made of mayonnaise, raw crushed garlic and lemon juice. Each leaf was pulled away from the heart, dunked into the sauce, scraped clean with the teeth and thrown into a large bowl. If we were to use artichokes in any other recipe, we would buy artichoke hearts in jars, never use the fresh ones. I happen to love marinated artichoke hearts out of a jar, but the simple fact is that nothing beats the flavor of fresh artichokes. This recipe is really just a technique for cleaning and prepping them. Once prepared, they are blanched until just tender, and then dunked in a simple marinade to keep them from sticking to the grill. An outdoor wood or charcoal grill will provide the best flavor, but an indoor grill pan or even a hot skillet will work just fine too. Mildly smoky, with gently crispy bits and a firm fleshy interior, this method really elevates the simple artichoke to something gourmet.
If you can find them, baby artichokes are the easiest to prepare because there is no spiky choke to remove in the center. As a rule with artichokes, smaller is better.
About 6 medium artichokes, or several handfuls baby artichokes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt, black pepper to taste
Begin by prepping the artichokes. First, place a large bowl about half full of cool water and squeeze half the lemon into it.
Start by removing the cut edge of the stem, but leaving the stem mostly intact (it tastes like the heart!). Next, cut off the top of the artichoke about halfway down, removing all the spiky tips and exposing the tender leaves in the middle. Now work your knife diagonally along the outer leaves, leaving only the bottom quarter or so of each leaf above the heart. Slice the artichoke down the middle through the stem, and unless it is a tender baby artichoke, there will be a spiky choke between the heart and the leaves in the very center. Scrape this out with a spoon. Depending on the size of the artichoke, you can slice it into quarters or even eighths. Once finished, place it into the lemon water. This will keep it from turning brown. Repeat this process with all the artichokes.
Bring a pot of water to boil. Once boiling, salt the water generously. Boil artichokes about 8-10 minutes, until tender enough to be pierced with a fork, but not soft or falling apart. Drain and immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Let sit in a colander for a few minutes to allow excess water to drip off.
Meanwhile, mix the marinade. Add olive oil, white wine and the other half of the lemon, juiced, to a mixing bowl. Add salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Add blanched artichokes and stir to submerge them all in the marinade. The texture of the artichokes will hold the marinade nicely. Heat a grill pan, skillet or outdoor grill and once very hot, cook artichokes about one minute on each side or until lightly browned but not black. Overcooking will make the texture sharp and crunchy. They are already cooked, so the grill is just to add extra flavor and texture.
Serve with your favorite dipping sauce and lemon slices.