Artichokes are not the most welcoming food in the produce department. With their odd shape, dull green color and layers of prickly armor it’s a wonder humans started eating them at all. Luckily, some poor soul a long time ago was hungry enough to try them and since Roman times the artichoke has not only been embraced, it has had a reputation of being a gourmet delicacy.
There is something oddly decadent about artichokes, even though they descend from the lowly thistle family, the flavor is quite mild and there isn’t an ounce of fat to be found. Maybe it’s because artichokes seem so difficult to cook (and eat, for that matter) that people save them for special occasions. But don’t be intimidated and definitely don’t relegate artichokes to the “special occasion” category. First of all, they’re not that hard to cook. Secondly, artichokes contain almost as many antioxidants as berries and are high in vitamin C, folic acid, magnesium, fiber, and flavonoids. These power-houses of nutrition can be served as an appetizer or side dish and are great in salads.
Artichokes are usually boiled or steamed until tender, then the petals are plucked off as you eat them. The edible part of the petal is at the tip. You scrape it off by biting the tip with your teeth then pulling the petal out of your mouth. The furry center of the artichoke is scooped or scraped out and what remains is the tender, flavorful heart. Baby artichokes, if prepped correctly, can simply be eaten whole rather than by pulling off the individual petals.
Especially in the warmer months, we like to grill both large and baby artichokes after boiling them to give the artichoke a smoky, more intense flavor.
However you decide to cook a large artichoke, the initial preparation is the same:
- Pull off small or discolored lower petals
- Cut the stem off and trim any green skin from the bottom of the artichoke
- Cut off the top quarter of petals (which removes the spiky petals)
- If not cooking immediately, hold in a large bowl of water mixed with a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to prevent discoloration
Baby artichokes are prepped slightly differently:
- Cut the stem off
- Trim the bottom of the artichoke
- Pull off petals until you reach the inner petals that are more yellow than green
- Cut the top part of the artichoke off where the green color meets the yellow color
Although it sounds labor intensive, prepping artichokes is actually quick work (a serrated knife works well). While you’re working, bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stove and heat the grill to med-high. Drop the artichokes into the boiling, salted water for 8-12 minutes, until the bottom is soft enough to be pierced with a fork.
To prepare the artichokes for grilling:
Slice the artichokes in half lengthwise.
The small artichokes are now good to go. The large artichokes need to have the choke removed.
The choke is the furry part with purple leaves. You can scoop it out with a spoon or cut it out with a knife.
Next, brush each artichoke half with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Grill until tender and lightly charred, about 5 minutes a side (large artichokes might need a little longer).
Grilled artichokes taste great with just a squirt of lemon. But as we mentioned earlier, artichokes have absolutely no fat, so of course what we love the most is dipping them into a creamy full-fat sauce.
The name of this sauce is either Creamy Mint Pesto (add a little mayo to the pesto) or Mint Pesto Mayonnaise (add a little pesto to the mayo), depending on how you like it. The zesty herb flavor and rich texture elevates grilled artichokes from delicious to divine.
- 1/4 cup walnut pieces
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped, loosely packed fresh mint leaves
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped, loosely packed fresh parsley
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons to 1 cup mayonnaise
In a food processor blend walnuts, garlic and herbs. Drizzle in olive oil while blending until mixture is smooth.
You can add a few tablespoons of pesto to a cup of mayonnaise, or add a few tablespoons of mayo to a cup of pesto – your choice! Finish with a squirt of lemon in the sauce and on the grilled artichokes. Relax and enjoy on a regular basis!