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In the Kitchen: Try an artichoke this season

Not much in the culinary world intimidates me anymore, but I do remember feeling quite intimidated the first time I cooked a whole artichoke. Recently I posted a picture on social media of some beautiful artichokes I found and was amazed by how many people messaged me asking how in the world to cook them. So, here goes. 

Choose large, firm artichokes. They should feel heavy and their leaves should be tight. Wash and dry them and then, using a heavy knife, cut a few inches off the pointy top end. Cut the stem off so the artichoke can stand up on its end. Using kitchen shears, cut the pointy tips of the leaves and then sort of spread out the leaves a bit. It will be resistant and that’s fine. 

You can totally steam artichokes in plain old water, but I like to jazz things up and add some seasonings. As far as a dipping sauce, you can make a simple aioli, which is just a fancy word for a mayonnaise dip. My favorite dipping sauce is just some melted butter and maybe a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. 

After steaming the artichokes, drain them and pull each leaf off of the artichoke and dip the leaves in the dip or butter and then eat the “meat” with your teeth. It is not a very big bite, but yummy. 

When you have eaten all of the meat, now comes the best part. Using a grapefruit spoon or just a regular spoon, scrape out the purple thistle — this is not edible, but covers up the best part of the artichoke — the heart. Cut the meaty heart up and dip in the butter or sauce. Yum! 

Steamed whole artichokes

2 ½ cups chicken stock

1 cup dry white wine (or use another cup of chicken stock)

3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

2 bay leaves

3 sprigs parsley

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 lemon, cut into chunks

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2  teaspoon pepper

2 whole artichokes, trimmed

In large pot, combine all ingredients except artichokes. When the flavorful broth is at the boiling point, add artichokes, stem side up. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 35-40 minutes, stirring a few times. Artichokes are done when a knife can be inserted into the base of the vegetable with no resistance. Also, the leaves should easily come off when pulled. 

Drain well. 

To eat, pull off a leaf, dip in melted butter and lemon, then scrape the meat off the tender end with your front teeth. When all the edible leaves are gone, remove the small mass of light purple or green prickly leaves. Scrape away the thistle fuzz, using a small metal spoon. Enjoy the meaty heart. 

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Aioli is a sauce used all along the Mediterannean. In fact, many sources say aioli is known as the butter of Provence. There are various ways to make the delicate sauce, but the most common way is to add garlic to a classic mayonnaise. The key to making the perfect aioli is a steady hand while adding the olive oil. 

While I have made it the homemade way, I have found that when you use a good quality mayonnaise, the sauce tastes delicious and only takes me a few minutes to assemble.

Although traditionally made with raw garlic, I like to roast the garlic. The sauce has that mellow almost sweet taste that only roasted garlic can provide. This is a terrific sauce to serve alongside gently steamed baby spring vegetables or even with homemade potato chips. 

Artichokes with special aioli 

6 steamed whole artichokes

3 whole garlic heads

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup mayonnaise

Remove the outer white papery skin of the garlic heads. Place garlic in small casserole dish, pour olive oil on top. Cover tightly with foil. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow garlic to cool until you can handle it. Carefully separate the garlic cloves and squeeze their pulp into a bowl. If you have a mini-food processor, this is a great time to use it. Combine garlic pulp, lemon juice, salt, pepper and mayonnaise in food processor (or blender) and process until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Add a little extra-virgin olive oil for a little more richness. 

This is also delicious with a few jarred roasted red peppers and raw garlic. Fresh herbs are also a welcome addition.