Still focusing on healthy for the new year.
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them. I love them because my mom made them ALL the time when we were kids, and she made them deliciously. And then I made them ALL the time while my boys were growing up. And now my boys are addicted. It helps that Steve is just as much a fanatic about fresh artichokes, so he helped me infuse the joy of eating them into the boys when they were little. I think all my guys would eat them every day if they could.
What does that tell you? That although not a common dish in the typical American household, fresh artichokes have the potential to be an extremely child-friendly vegetable side. Don’t believe me? Let’s think about it…
First, they are engagingly weird-looking. What kid is not intrigued by that?
Second, eating them is totally interactive. There’s peeling, there’s dipping, there’s scraping out the choke…they are literally dismantling their food while they eat it.
Third, you dip them in something that makes them even more delicious (my family recipe eschews butter and mayonnaise for a healthier Mediterranean vinaigrette).
And last, it goes without saying, they taste so good! But by the time the kiddos are caught up in dismantling this really weird-looking thing on their plates, and tasting it as they go, the flavor will sneak up and grab them before they know it.
The pièce de ré·sis·tance? Gosh darn it, they are SO good for you! This is just one source (and yes, they are one of the biggest artichoke growers in the world), but their claims are mirrored elsewhere if you look around.
What makes my fresh artichokes different? I walk away from all of the raw prep work everyone else seems to think is mandatory. I don’t think we need to cut the leaf tips, split them in half, and clean out the middle…all before even cooking them. That is so much work when they are raw and tough! Plus, they oxidize and turn dark, and for what? To make them look trimmed and pretty to eat? Let’s just eat them the way nature made them!
We always pair fresh artichokes with a grilled protein. Usually steak, but sometimes with my grilled, boneless, skinless chicken thighs. And even though we can basically get fresh artichokes year round in Arizona (thank you, California!), they are usually available in Spring in other parts of the country. So keep an eye for them soon and try this recipe!
Let’s look at what we need to make these no work, no fuss fresh artichokes
We obviously need the artichokes. Buy them as fresh as possible, avoiding dry and cracked leaves or limp stems.
I like to trim the tippy ends off the stems, and place the fresh artichokes stem-side down in a bowl of water to keep them happy. You can put them in the refrigerator this way or keep them on your counter top until you use them. But use them as quickly after you buy them as you can. The fresher the better.
By the way, when I say just the tippy ends, I mean it! Many sources will tell you to cut the stems close to the heart. It makes me cry. I mean, real tears. It is such a waste, in my mind. You’ll see when we get near the end.
This is what I mean by trimming just the tippy end off the stem. I had already trimmed it when I got it home so that it would better absorb the water from the bowl I was keeping it in. Usually, right from the store, the end of the stems will be very brown.
And this is all you need for the vinaigrette dipping sauce.
My mouth is already watering!
Let’s look at how easy it is to get these fresh artichokes on the table
Rinse the fresh artichokes thoroughly, holding them stem-side down under the faucet. This will allow the water to soak in between the leaves. Then turn them stem-side up to release the water. Repeat several times to get them clean.
If you want, you can then soak them for a few minutes in a bowl full of water with the juice of a whole lemon or lime. Why, you may ask? Because it makes them picture pretty. Artichokes oxidize incredibly quickly, either by being cut or being cooked. If you soak them with some citric acid, they will better retain an even color. Otherwise, when cooking, the side that is floating above the water will be a different color than the side under the water. For the record, I did it for the first time today so my pictures would be pretty. I really NEVER care, otherwise.
Then place the artichokes in a pot of water, cover, and boil until you can pluck one of the leaves near the top of the stem and it comes off quickly and easily. About 25 minutes on medium high. Do not overcook or the heart, the pot of gold at the end of the artichoke rainbow, will turn into vegetable mush. Ugh! Disaster! Such a waste!
Anyway…while the artichokes are cooking, make the vinaigrette dipping sauce.
Pour in all of the ingredients, then whisk like crazy to emulsify some of the oil. Taste and adjust accordingly. Set aside and let the flavors become magical.
When the artichokes pass the “pluck the leaf easily” test, remove them immediately from the hot water and drain in a colander.
They stay warm for a quite a while, so let them drain and don’t sweat it.
Then plate it with a ramekin of dipping sauce.
Actually, drooling and not really missing the grilled steak or chicken just now.
Tear off the leaves individually, dip them in the sauce, and scrape the meaty tip off with your teeth.
Work your way around until you get to the very tender center leaves. Pinch the middle of the leaf clump, pull all of the leaves off at once, and dip and eat them as a bunch.
Then scrape the choke off the heart with a spoon.
Yum! (I can say that because I was doing the eating through these progressive shots. NOT a sacrifice, I can assure you.)
Once the heart is cleaned of the choke, dip that sucker in and eat as much as you can, all the way up the stem, as much as you want.
And here is where I show you why you should not cut off the stems. A truly fresh artichoke has the most tender, sweet meat in the stem! See the lighter colored heart inside the darker green of the outer stem? That meat melts in your mouth and is so sweet! Frankly, Steve and I dip and eat the whole stem right up to the tip. But it does get more fibrous from that outside layer as you go. So you may prefer to scrape the stem heart meat out with a spoon.
But the last image (sorry, maybe TMI) shows how I feel…not only about fresh artichokes, but about the whole stem.
I’ll say no more.
How did this become this…?
…because yummy cannot be ignored.
I did mention my WHOLE family LOVES artichokes, right?
I almost feel like I need to apologize for my exuberance. But I can’t quite make myself do it.
Just try it. Really. SO GOOD!
- 4 fresh artichokes, choose thick, long stems
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- ⅔ cup olive oil
- 2 medium garlic cloves, finely diced
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 2 tablespoons +/- agave nectar to taste, or sugar to taste
- Fresh ground pepper
- Rinse the fresh artichokes, stem-side down, 2-3 times, then drain the rinse water.
- Place in a cooking pot and boil, over medium high heat, until a leaf at the top near the stem can be be easily and quickly plucked .
- Do not overcook.
- While the artichokes are boiling, prepare the vinaigrette by mixing all of the ingredients in a 2 cup measuring cup.
- Whisk until the olive oil is emulsified.
- Adjust salt, pepper, and agave/sugar to taste.
- When the artichokes are done, remove from the hot water into a colander and drain, stem-side up.
- Whisk, then pour dipping sauce into 4 ramekins.
- Plate with cooked, warm artichokes.