It’s spring, and this girl’s fancy is turning to thoughts of artichokes.
I’m a sucker for a good steamed artichoke. I love the meditativeness of it, pulling off the leaves one by one and running them between my teeth to extract the meat. I love how the leaves get tenderer and more delicate the farther along I go, how more and more of the heart-meat clings to each leaf as I approach the center. I love pulling the last few tissue-paper leaves from the top of the heart and nibbling off as much of the filmy bottoms as I can. I love scraping the choke away with a spoon, revealing the soft cupola of the heart inside. I love breaking the heart into pieces with my fingers and eating it greedily, all sweet-and-bitter and always gone too soon.
For my money, you could just plunk a whole artichoke in a pot with a thin film of water on the bottom and steam it till it’s tender. I’ve done that for years. But it’s not much of a recipe, and for you, blog readers, I wanted something special. So for this post, I sliced off the tops, half-steamed the artichokes upside down, then turned them over and drizzled a little extra virgin olive oil over the top before steaming them the rest of the way. (If I’d wanted to get really fancy, I could have trimmed the thorny tips off of each individual leaf; but that’s far too much fuss for me, since the thorns soften anyway in the steam.) It turned out surprisingly lovely; the oil sank into the crevices and formed a light film on the leaves.
You could certainly eat your artichoke naked–I often do–but the leaves are perfect for dipping, and stand up to a variety of sauces. I’ve most often had artichokes with a mayonnaise sauce, or lemon and butter, which are both very nice but not really my thing. What I love, and make most often, is a simple lemon vinaigrette. (I make it so often, in fact, that I’ve written about it here before.) It’s not much on paper: good olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and just enough honey to tame and emulsify the two. Whisk it all together, and you have a smooth and tangy dressing, perfect for anointing any number of grilled or steamed vegetables. As a dip for artichoke leaves, it’s hands-down my favorite.
This is perhaps my ideal springtime lunch: a warm steamed artichoke, a custard cup of lemon vinaigrette, a loaf of crusty whole-grain bread, and some good cheese. It really doesn’t get much better.
Steamed Artichokes with Lemon Vinaigrette (serves 2 generously, or 4 daintily)
Steaming instructions from Summer Tomato
2 large artichokes
Water for steaming
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1-2 medium lemons’ worth)
1/2 tsp honey, or to taste
Salt to taste
Working one at a time, pull the bottom row of leaves–the ones that will be too tough to eat–off the artichoke and discard them. Cut the stem off each artichoke close to the base, so that the artichoke sits upright. Slice off 2-3 inches horizontally from the top of each artichoke. If desired, use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the spiky tips off the rest of the leaves.
In a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, bring about 1/2 inch of water to a boil. Place the artichokes in the pot face down (stem side up). Cover the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer, and let the artichokes steam, undisturbed, for 20 minutes. Use a pair of tongs to turn the artichokes face up (stem side down). Drizzle the artichokes lightly with extra virgin olive oil, making sure the oil drips down between the center leaves. Sprinkle the artichokes with salt. Replenish the water as needed to come back up to 1/2 inch, then re-cover and steam, undisturbed, for another 20 minutes.
While the artichokes steam, whisk together lemon juice, honey, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, a few drops at a time, whisking vigorously the whole time. You should end up with a thick, creamy vinaigrette. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then transfer to a small bowl for dipping. Set aside.
To test the artichokes for doneness, use a pair of tongs to pull off one of the outer leaves from each artichoke. If the leaf comes away easily, the artichoke is done; if not, re-cover and steam for another 5-15 minutes, testing again every 5 minutes.
Once the artichokes are steamed, remove them from the pot and transfer to a serving plate. Let the artichokes sit until they’re just cool enough to handle, and serve with the lemon vinaigrette for dipping.