Grilling Artichokes

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grilled artichokes

Ahhhh. Say the word artichoke and you’ve got my complete attention. Say carciofi (artichokes in Italian) and I drop everything.

artichokes

I can eat them every day. And I don’t even need a new recipe. I’d braise them the way I always do with garlic, parsley, and olive oil. And I’m happy.

But you can’t help being creative when you spend a lot of time in the kitchen (ahhh, the kitchen). So I turned braising on its head and took it all outside.

This summer I started grilling my artichokes. In the evening sun. When hummingbirds buzz at the feeder. And a team of butterflies graze the zinnias. And tomatoes on the vine turn red before my eyes. Who wouldn’t want to spend time at the grill?

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First, snip the thorns off of the outer leaves. Cut each artichoke in half.

arties ready

cut artichokes ready to go

Boil them in salted water until the heart feels softened, almost cooked all the way through.

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boiled artichoke halves

Before lighting grill, spray it with PAM, or lightly grease it with olive oil. Then heat the grill to hot. Brush artichokes with a mixture of olive oil, honey, salt, and hot pepper.

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artichokes brushed with honey-olive-oil mixture

Grill them, cut side down, until grill lines appear and some char appears. Then turn them over and grill the leafy side till charred a bit.

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grilling artichokes

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grilled artichokes

Serve hot, or at room temp, with this very simple (and delicious) dipping sauce (see below). Ahhhhhhhhh.

Grilled Artichokes w Aioli

4 medium or large artichokes

1/3 cup olive oil

1-2 tablespoons honey

2-3 teaspoons cayenne or aleppo pepper

1/2 cup mayo

juice from 1 lime

1 teaspoon soy sauce

salt & pepper to taste

Fill a large saucepan halfway with water. Bring to a boil. Salt water. With a pair of scissors, snip the thorns from the artichokes leaves. Cut the artichokes in half and drop into the boiling water. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the inside heart is softened.

Drain and pat dry. (If artichokes are very large, cut in quarters before grilling.) Meanwhile spray PAM on the grill grate, and heat to hot. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil and honey, season with aleppo or cayenne, salt and pepper. Brush the artichokes with the oil-honey mixture. Grill artichokes until grill lines appear and they’re charred in places.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the mayo, lime juice, and soy sauce. Use as a dipping sauce for the artichokes.

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And now for the best part: Baby Artichokes

baby artichokes

baby artichokes

Artichokes are great any size. I can make a meal of them every day. And with each leaf I nibble I wonder: Who ever thought of cooking this thistle and eating it this way? You know: pull off a leaf, don’t eat the leaf, but eat the tip of heart at the bottom of the leaf. Why did any think we should go through all this trouble for a tip of a leaf?

Whoever it was had genius in his/her brain. The ritual is as enticing as the taste. Food that takes you on a journey. The going is a grand ride, the arrival a sumptuous feast. That concentrated heart, all on its own, full bites of genius.

But imagine eating the entire artichoke. (It puts me in mind of soft-shelled blue-claw crabs: yes, you can eat the entire crab!) Baby artichokes are easy to trim, then you cook the whole thing, and then you eat the WHOLE thing. Sometimes I wonder if baby artichokes are like baby fish or clams or lobsters. Shouldn’t we throw them back in so they can grow? But with this plant, it’s not too much of a crime to eat them while young.

baby artichoke ingredients

baby artichoke ingredients

Here’s how:

First, cut off the top third of the leaves. And cut off the stem.

cut top off baby artichoke

cut top off baby artichoke

Then pull off all the tough dark green leaves until you come to the pale green leaves. Trim away any bright green from heart bottom.

trim away any green

trim away any green

Place them in acidulated water as you go (water with the juice of lemon). This helps them keep their color and not blacken.

lemon water

lemon water

Then add them to a medium or large saucepan (depending on how many artichokes you have). Add water (you can even use your acidulated water for a lemony taste). Add parsley. Add smashed garlic cloves. Add a few healthy drizzles of olive oil. And season with salt and pepper.

artichokes in water, olive oil, parsley and garlic

artichokes in water, olive oil, parsley and garlic

Bring to a simmer, then partially cover and cook for about 40 minutes, until a paring knife pokes easily into the heart.

There you have it. Eat the whole thing (I use a fork and knife). The world is your artichoke.

baby artichokes

baby artichokes

And check out this cool story about what happens when you let the thistle grow. It turns into a wondrous purple flower. (Beautiful, yes, but I want my artichoke.)

baby artichokes

baby artichokes

 

The Art (& Heart) of Artichokes

medium-sized artichokes

medium-sized artichokes

I wish I could remember the first time I understood an artichoke. It must have been early on because you would think that first encounter would be memorable. I should ask my mom: when did I first eat an artichoke?

And what a name. Artie Choke.  (Remind me to use that for a character in a story or play I will write.) And in Italian it’s even more fun: carciofo. Either way it’s the thistle I love.

How many times have you wondered: who ever figured out how to eat it? What other food do you throw most of it away? While you’re busy getting at its “core” which is its delectable gold? (Well, okay, a clam comes to mind.)

In my Italian-American family we had 2 ways of making them. Braised-boiled plain with garlic and parsley.

plain cooked artichokes

plain cooked artichokes

Or stuffed with flavored breadcrumb packed between the leaves. And braise-boiled.  We thought of the plain style as Sicilian (my Dad would only eat them that way). And the other style…Napolitana? Maybe.

stuffed artichokes

stuffed artichokes

I used to like just plain. Now I like stuffed. But frankly, I’ll eat them any way you can imagine. Have you had the Roman Carciofi alla Giudia (Jewish-style)? The artichokes are smashed flat and deep-fried. If you ever have the chance… ORDER THAT.

How to begin:

Cut off the top third…and the stem at the bottom. I often use a large bread knife to get through the tough leaves.

cut off the top of the artichoke

cut off the top of the artichoke

Snip the outer leaves that have thorns so you don’t get “stuck.”

snip off the thorns

snip off the thorns

I rinse them under cool water while trying to open them a little with some gentle pulls. Then shake them out to get rid of the drip-drops. Here’s my current favorite stuffing: panko, minced garlic, minced parsley, raisins and pine nuts.

stuffing ingredients

stuffing ingredients

Mix that up and drizzle a little olive oil to moisten. Season with salt and pepper.

filling

filling

Pile a handful of stuffing on top then pull open leaves here and there getting the mixture to drop in. Or just push it in. But go easy, you don’t want to break the leaves. It’s a balancing act. Open the leaves…don’t break the leaves. The enigma of artichoke-stuffing.

stuffing artichokes

stuffing artichokes

Set them upright in a pot with a little heft to it (they will be simmering for a while). Add water till about halfway up the artichokes. Then drizzle olive oil on top of them and some for the water, too. Season the whole thing with salt.

artichokes in the pot

artichokes in the pot

Heat till the liquid starts boiling, then lower to a simmer. I set a cover on askew. Cook for 40 minutes to an hour. If you can pull a leaf off easily they are done. I like the hearts to get real tender.

Alternate tip. My mom is not a big garlic-in-your-food fan. She’ll smash a clove to start a tomato sauce, but then take it out before serving (it’s a common Italian move). So for less garlic impact, instead of adding minced garlic to the stuffing, just add some crushed cloves to the cooking water.

Don’t know how to eat an artichoke? Here’s a primer (I wish I could draw diagrams). Pick off the leaves (one by one), scrape off the bit of heart-meat at the bottom tip with your teeth. Yum. You can’t eat the whole leaf because it’s tough. As you get deeper into the artichoke the leaves get more tender and you can eat the whole leaf. Continue until you reach the spiky small leaves at the center. Scrape them away along with the fuzzy “choke” covering the heart at the bottom. Then you have the heart. You gotta have heart. And you especially gotta eat this whole entire heart.

Also. Those stems you cut off? If you want to get meticulous, there’s a little bit of heart in those, too. It’s the white center.

there's even heart in the stem

there’s even heart in the stem

You can trim the stringy green all around the white center and drop the trimmed stem into the cooking liquid surrounded by its big brothers.

heart in the stem

heart in the stem

It’s just an added hit of yummy heart.

When I shared an apartment with my pal, Ginger, back in my theatre days, we ate artichokes all the time. She’s from California so she was as artichoke-crazy as me (you know, Castroville CA is the artichoke capital of the US). Her version was to boil them, then dip the leaves in melted butter as you nibbled. That’s another happy choice.

Once we drove into NYC to see a Broadway play (we lived in Huntington and worked at PAF Playhouse). Since we were budget-conscious we brought our dinner with us to eat in the car before the show. I have a dim memory-short-movie of us in the front seat of her VW van, in the dark, parked on a city street, hungrily scraping the leaves of our artichokes. But I have no idea what play we went to see.

at PAF Playhouse-my stage managing days

at PAF Playhouse-my stage managing days

Backstage at PAF Playhouse with 2 other PAF-ites: Christine & Bill. (Me, on the right.) Quite likely I had an artichoke for dinner.

What I Buy at Trader Joe’s – Part 2

Oh, this list can go on forever, but I’ll try to fill in the blanks little by little, each time with a new list of goodies. I have fun at Trader Joe’s. I have fun at supermarkets period. At farmer’s markets. At Costco. At foreign supermarkets, outdoor markets, little food stores. Seeing food on display, deciding what you want, imagining recipes, discovering new products, sampling, happy to see the season’s new crops…I love all of that. It’s my idea of a good time.

New List of My Trader Joe’s Favs:

Fresh Artichokes – 4 medium artichokes to a pack – cheap money

Fresh Artichokes at Trader Joe's

Fresh Artichokes at Trader Joe’s

I am an artichoke junkie. I love the Italian word for artichokes: carciofi. Finding fresh ones, consistently, that aren’t the size of tractor trailers, that are human-sized, that you can cook up in the many ways I love to cook them (here’s one recipe), is sometimes the equivalent of obtaining the Holy Grail (yes, I exaggerate). But these are gold-like to me. And TJ’s is the only place where the packages are stacked high and easy to buy. I grew up eating them “Italian-style” then shared an apartment on LI with a California friend (hello, Castroville, CA, American capital of artichoke growing) and learned her way of eating them and then we came up with a recipe we both adored: boil or steam them till the heart is tender. Make a dip of mayo, lemon juice and soy sauce. Umami-central.

Olives (Picholine)

Trader Joe's Picholine Olives

Trader Joe’s Picholine Olives

Trader Joe’s has 3 different olives that I love. Picholine is one of them. Perfect acidity, soft but al dente, goes with ANYTHING. My other favs are their pitted Kalamata and the green Jaques Lucques olives–oh, yum.

Red Argentinian Shrimp

Trader Joe's Argentine Shrimp

Trader Joe’s Argentinian Shrimp

These are in the freezer section. Raw, shelled. And are not always available. They SELL OUT. Something unusual about this shrimp. They are pink while raw, and they are soft when cooked. It’s an odd, pleasant, and luxurious sensation to bite into one, like you’ve been invited to the high gourmand table.

Trader Joe’s Italian Shelled Fava Beans

Trader Joe's Frozen Fava Beans

Trader Joe’s Frozen Fava Beans

This product is a boon to mankind. How often do you run across fresh fava beans? I do, sometimes. Sometimes in the regular supermarket. More often in the Asian market. But not always. THESE are out of their pods, but still in their individual shells. I just discovered them in TJ’s freezer section last month. LOVE. I give them a quick blanche, then peel each shell away to reveal that startling green lovely, so lovely, fava bean. My fav recipe: Sauté some sliced onion and diced pancetta in some olive oil. Add beans, add a bit of wine. Cook for just 5 minutes or so (TJ’s are young beans, so don’t need to cook too long). Add some salt. LOVE this.

Walnuts, Halves & Pieces

Trader Joe's Walnuts Halves & Pieces

Trader Joe’s Walnuts Halves & Pieces

So when I usually buy walnuts they are whole. Supposedly, that’s preferred. If you’re snacking on them I’m sure that whole is more satisfying. But if you’re cooking, I end up breaking them between my fingers (since on a board with a knife they tend to have a flight life all their own). Trader Joe’s sells them broken. TJ’s nut department– no, not the employees — nor the shoppers — but the nuts as in walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, cashews, peanuts, almonds is EXTENSIVE. It’s a pleasure just to peruse the shelves and marvel at the variety. Yes, you can get whole walnuts, but I like these broken ones…ready to go. Same with pecans, whole or broken, candied or salted, raw or roasted. And the list goes on…leaving an irresistible trail for you to follow …nibbling all the way.

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Trader Joe's Cocoa Powder

Trader Joe’s Cocoa Powder

I love this package. And I love this cocoa. What more could you want?

Blood Oranges (when they have them)

Trader Joe's Blood Oranges

Trader Joe’s Blood Oranges

I almost fainted when I saw this bag of blood oranges at Trader Joe’s this past January. They’re a rare commodity. They aren’t there now. But you never know. And that’s the thing about Trader Joe’s. They come up with seasonal stuff. (Like a 2-foot branch of Brussels sprouts. And their burnt-around-the edges-but yummy matzoh crackers only in around Passover.) And then it’s gone. Grab it when you can. These blood oranges are so delicious, not as sweet as “orange” oranges, but the tartness elevates the flavor. They’re so pretty and remind me of my student days in Rome. My other fav TJ’s orange is the Cara Cara.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for Part 3. Because there’s always something cool to get at TJ’s. Don’t be shy about trying stuff. You will likely not go wrong. (They ain’t paying me for this.) (Maybe they should!) 🙂

TJ's Blood Oranges

TJ’s Blood Oranges