Wednesday, June 3, 2009

grilled artichokes with lemon and mint

For years, my artichoke dogma was very rigid. Artichokes were meant to be steamed, their leaves plucked, their hearts excavated (and fought over)—every bit of edible flesh dipped in mayonnaise (or, for the haute experience, lemon aioli) and devoured.

It was the ultimate peel-and-eat treat and, to my mind, the only worthwhile showcase of the artichoke’s merits.

Since then, my horizons have expanded. I’ve attended the Castroville Artichoke Festival—experienced artichokes fried, sautéed, pickled, creamed, even life-sized. I won’t lie: I probably still enjoy them best the old-fashioned way. But every year, I grow more amenable to new preparations. (It helps that I’ve finally learned how to avoid artichoke-cleaning injuries—those perilous fuzzy chokes!)

This version, we made a few weeks ago, in honor of the aforementioned Artichoke Festival. It's not original—I basically Single White Femaled the idea from Casa Mono’s “Artichokes with Mint.” Of course, I don’t have the advantage of a plancha (an integral part of my fantasy kitchen), but a grill pan seemed to do them justice.

The artichokes are first simmered in olive oil, wine, lemon and mint (a 20-minute flavor infusion), then grilled to charry perfection.

Grilled Artichokes with Lemon and Mint
Adapted from Mario Batali Italian Grill by Mario Batali

I omitted the jalapeños this time because I am a wimp. Next time, I'd buck up.

Serves 4

6 large artichokes, preferably with stems
2 lemons, halved
1 bunch mint, chopped, stems and all, plus about 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves cut into chiffonade (thin slivers)
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
2 to 4 red jalapeños, diced or thinly sliced (optional)
Coarse sea salt

1. Fill a large bowl with about 6 cups of water and add the juice of 1 1/2 of the lemons; add the 3 lemon halves too. Snap off the tough outer leaves from one artichoke until you come to the leaves that are pale yellow toward the bottom. Cut off the top 1 inch of the leaves. As you work, rub the cut surfaces with the remaining lemon half. Trim off the bottom of the stem and, using a paring knife, trim away the tough outer layer from the stem. Trim any dark green parts from the bottom of the artichoke. Halve the artichoke lengthwise and, using a grapefruit spoon or small sharp spoon, remove the fuzzy choke. Pull out the small purple inner leaves. Put the trimmed artichoke in the bowl of lemon water, and repeat with the remaining artichokes.

2. Combine the chopped mint, garlic, olive oil, and wine in a large pot. Add the artichokes and the lemon water, along with the lemon shells, then add more water if necessary to cover the artichokes. Put a pan lid on top of the artichokes to keep them submerged and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until just tender, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the artichokes. Drain and allow to cool.

3. Preheat a gas grill or prepare a fire in a charcoal grill.

4. Place the artichokes cut side down over the hottest part of the grill and cook, unmoved, for 3 to 5 minutes, until nicely charred. Turn and cook for 5 minutes more, or until golden brown on the second side. Place the artichokes on a platter and strew with the remaining mint and the jalapeños. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

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