There are few things that remind me of late spring evenings quite as much as a plate full of grilled artichokes. Around here, fresh baby artichokes tend to make an appearance just as the evenings begin to turn balmy enough to sit outdoors, when the patio furniture is pulled from its wintertime storage and the barbecue is finally unveiled and restored to its rightful place as the lord of the backyard.
For me, eating an artichoke is all about the ritual – the slow peeling back of each leaf, the dip into lemony vinaigrette or aioli, and the tender underside dragging against my teeth to release a tiny bite of delicate artichoke flesh. It’s the licking of the fingers, the growing pile of discarded leaves on the edge of the plate, the slow buildup to the ultimate reward.
It’s an edible equivalent of a burlesque performance, as layer by layer the artichoke’s defenses are peeled away, each one revealing an ever-more tantalizing glimpse of the vulnerable flesh hiding beneath – the tender, intensely flavourful artichoke heart, devoured in a single bite that sharply contrasts with the slow, careful savouring that preceded it.
Preparing artichokes, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as pleasant. Like most members of the thistle family, artichokes are not without their defenses – namely, prickly spikes on the top of each leaf, perfectly placed for spearing an unwitting cook’s fingers if not handled with care. The thorny tips would merely be an inconvenience, though, were it not for the fact that the exposed surfaces of a cut artichoke rapidly oxidize into an icky shade of brown, which means they must be immediately rubbed with a fresh cut lemon.
Many small cuts + lemon juice = a very sweary Isabelle.
Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at keeping my hands intact while prepping artichokes. It’s what I imagine wrestling with alligators must be like… once you’ve figured out how to avoid the sharp pointy parts, it gets a heck of a lot easier.
Besides, no matter how hard the artichokes might prick and sting, we all know how it ends… a platter of fresh artichokes, served with a side of sweet, sweet victory (and maybe a little lemon aioli).
I particularly like this recipe for grilled baby artichokes – these pint-sized artichokes are quicker to prepare and have a much smaller hairy choke in the centre than their full-grown counterparts, and grilling gives them a pleasant hint of charred smoke. It’s an utterly simple starter for a summer meal.
Just make sure to have lots of napkins on hand (and maybe some antibiotic salve for your poor battle-scarred hands).
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 4-6 leaves fresh basil, very finely minced
- 2 lemons
- 10 baby artichokes
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- To prepare the aioli, combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk until blended and smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use (aioli can be prepared up to two days in advance and stored in the refrigerator).
- Move on to the artichokes. Start by juicing one of the lemons into a large bowl of ice water, and cut the remaining lemon in half.
- To prepare each artichoke, trim the stem, leaving about 1", and peel . Rub the cut surface with a lemon half (repeat this process with any new exposed surfaces to keep them from oxidizing). Snap off the bottom 3 to 4 rows of leaves, then cut off the tip. Snip off sharp thorny tips from remaining leaves. Finally, halve the artichoke lengthwise to expose the small fuzzy centre (also known as the choke) and scrape it out with a sharp paring knife. Transfer the finished artichoke halves in the bowl of lemon water. Repeat with remaining artichokes.
- Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add the prepared artichokes and boil until crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Drain, then run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Pat dry and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
- Drizzle the artichokes with olive oil, and toss until evenly coated. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper.
- Preheat grill on medium-high heat. Arrange the artichokes on the hot grill, cut side down. Grill until tender and lightly charred, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately with small bowls of Lemon-Basil Aioli on the side.