God I love artichokes... Steamed, boiled, marinated. Artichoke hearts, spinach artichoke dip, I love them all. I don't think I have ever met an artichoke I didn't like, although I do have a bone to pick with a particular artichoke from Costco that cut me with its spiked leaf. (That's right, you know who you are. Watch out, I am coming to get you.)
Why was I buying artichokes in Costco? Well, for starters, they are in season now so they have spectacular flavor. More to the point, I had decided to serve artichokes as a first course for a dinner party I was hosting, and so I needed Costco-type portions. I was really excited about everything for the party. I think there is nothing better than getting around a table with people you love, eating amazing food, and laughing yourself silly. And maybe drinking. A little. I am an especially happy lady when I get to be the chef extraordinare/hostess for the evening, because it gives me an excuse (as if I need one) to create loads of goodies in the kitchen to serve my hungry, obliging friends. Clearly a win-win situation.
I can't really articulate why I like artichokes so much. The tiny morsel of meaty flesh at the bottom of each leaf is hardly the basis for a meal, but the gold mine of fruit that lies at the heart is well worth the effort of getting to it. In fact, I would fight you for it. Maybe it is the fun of scraping each leaf with my teeth? On a deeper level, I think the biologist in me also likes the fact that an artichoke is a sort of flower marauding as a vegetable. Tricky, tricky.
I didn't even end up buying anything on my trip to Costco, because I was so put off by that renegade artichoke that so brazenly attacked me. This was actually a blessing in disguise, since I found these beautiful, huge, ripe artichokes at my local grocery store. Score! Other artichoke-hounds out there know as well as I do that a good artichoke is often hard to come by. I excitedly took my loot home and prepped them for cooking.
After stemming and cutting the tops, I also trimmed each of the artichoke leaves. I know not everyone does this, and sometimes I don't bother either, but I think most of us would agree that we prefer our food without sharp edges. After prepping, I simply boiled the artichokes in water with a little salt and lemon, and then drained them and left them to cool.
While the artichokes were cooling, I made the aioli with a lovely head of organic garlic. Since making this I have read other recipes where they roasted the garlic before putting it in with the aioli to give it a more mellow taste, but everyone at the party agreed it that the dip was delicious.
After juicing one of the lemons for the aioli, it occurred to me that it was sort of like a little empty half cup; so I used a small knife to cut any of the left over skin from the rind and clean it out, and then I cut a little round off the bottom of the lemon so it would stand flatly. The half lemon cup was just the right size to hold enough garlic aioli to eat with one whole artichoke.
Once the artichokes were cooled, I pulled out the inner leaves and scraped out the choke to expose the heart. This left a perfect-sized hole in the center of the artichoke where I could place the lemon cup filled with aioli.
To serve for a first course with dinner, you can give each guest or each couple one whole artichoke with the lemon cup in the center. Then they can take off each of the leaves, dip in the aioli, and savor the meaty flesh and exposed heart.
This is truly a perfect do-ahead starter, because all the components can be prepared at least a day ahead of time and refrigerated. Then on the day of the party, all that is left for you to do is assemble them for a pretty presentation. Overall the work is minimal and the result is really tasty, and good-looking to boot. What else can you ask for?
Artichokes with Lemon-Garlic Aioli in Lemon Cups
(for a party of 6)
3 large artichokes, with stems trimmed, bottom leaves removed, top cut off and each leaf snipped (see photo above)
3 lemons: 1 to slice in half for cooking artichokes, 2 for juicing and preparing lemon cups
Prepare artichokes first, as they will need time to cool. Heat a large pot of water to boiling, and add a teaspoon of salt, 2 lemon halves, and 2 artichokes. (If your pot is big enough you can boil all three at once.) Reduce heat to medium, cover pot and simmer for 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your artichokes. You know they are done when one of the bottom leaves peels easily away from the stem.
Pour off the water and allow the artichokes to drain upside down in a colander. (In the meantime, you can make aioli, recipe below.) Once the artichokes are cooled, stand them right side up in a small bowl and use your hands to relax the leaves away from the core. After any steam has escaped, grab the tender leaves in the very center of the artichoke, and pull them out and discard.
Then use a small spoon to scrape off additional leaves at the very bottom, as well as the fuzzy choke.
Once the center is completely clean and the meaty heart is exposed (and the artichokes are completely cooled), they are ready to be served or covered and refrigerated until needed.
When you are ready to serve the artichokes, cut remaining lemons in half (or use lemons juiced from making aioli). Use a small paring knife to cut away any skin or membranes from the inside of the rind to make a clean cup. Fill the cup with the lemon-garlic aioli, place it in the center of the artichoke, and serve.
Adapted from The Good Egg, by Marie Simmons
4 large egg yolks
6-9 garlic cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 1/2-1 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cold water
To make aioli, add first four ingredients to a food processor and blend. If possible, keep the motor running and add about 1/2 cup of the olive oil slowly. (If you can't keep the motor running, that is ok, I didn't.) The mixture should begin to thicken, then add the lemon juice and water, one teaspoon at a time, blending between each addition. Add the remaining oil slowly at first, then more, blending all the time until it is all added. Mixture will get progressively thicker as you blend and add oil. Add salt and pepper to taste, refrigerate in a sealed container until use.
(Makes about 2 cups aioli)