Sunday, May 18, 2014

Artichokes: Grilling the Globe

The opposite of the baby artichoke is the giant globe. Years ago when I lived California, artichokes were a plentiful and relatively cheap staple, and were common on the restaurant menus and friends’ tables. I lived not too far from Castroville, the “artichoke capital of the world,” and would go to the annual fair and eat them, large and small, every which way. I took them rather for granted.

Since then—and it has been a very long time—I have largely bought artichokes when they looked particularly good, and were at a particularly good price, in the market. This was not all that often. When I lived in Nashville, I discovered a grilled artichoke at Bricktop’s that became one of my mainstays in that otherwise food-bereft and regressive Deep South town. Bricktop’s is a chain, which tells you something about the food scene in Nashville at the time, but it was a good, reliable place, and it and its grilled artichoke became something of a comfort to me during my years there. I would often stop in after teaching late—until 7:30 p.m.—on a Thursday night, the end of my teaching week, and order a grilled artichoke and a glass of red wine. That grilled artichoke, served with melted butter and remoulade (they have since switched to aioli, apparently), remains for me the gold standard of grilled artichokes.

So of course, I try to make mine taste just the same. While I don’t have their superhot restaurant grill, I can come pretty close. Here is how to do it, using globe artichokes purchased for $1.00 each at my local supermarket. They are a sign or spring. Like the gila monster, who comes out around the same time of year, and has similarly vicious tendencies in its natural state

Grilled Artichokes with American Remoulade

I like to have an artichoke all to myself, and make a meal out of it. If following with a steak, half an artichoke per person will do. And you can dip it into anything creamy mayonnaise-based sauce that suits your fancy: aioli, lemon mayo, ranch dressing, or this Americanized version (minus capers and cornichons) of remoulade. Just be sure you make it fresh.

1 artichoke per person                

Lemon juice

Olive oil
Salt and pepper

American Remoulade

1 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
1 1/2 T mixed tarragon, parsley, chervil, chive; the tarragon and parsley are essential
1 T Dijon mustard or more to taste
1 anchovy filet, mashed, or 1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 tea minced shallot
Drop or two Tabasco sauce
1-2 tea lemon juice to thin
Salt and pepper

Lemon wedges
Melted butter

Trim the stems of large artichokes to about ½” and remove any loose lower leaves. Using a sharp knife, square off the top of the artichoke, cutting across the top spines, and then, using sharp kitchen shears, cut off the tops of the other leaves, removing all spines.  Put a few inches of water in a 3-4 qt saucepan with a lid, add a little lemon juice and a sprinkling of flour, and place in the artichokes, stems down, so the artichokes are touching and remain upright. Bring to a boil, covered, then reduce the heat and steam until you can pierce through the center straight to the bottom with a sharp knife, about 15­-20 minutes. Do not overcook.

Remove, allow to cool, then cut in half vertically. With a spoon, remove and discard the fuzzy choke. Combine all the remoulade ingredients to taste and set aside.

Brush the artichokes with olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper.  Grill face-down on a hot grill for 5 minutes; turn to grill  for another 3-5 minutes, until nicely charred. Serve with lemon wedges, the sauce, and some melted butter or more olive oil mixed with salt and pepper for dipping.