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.