Growing up, one of our favourite times around the dinner table involved the lowly, rather alien-looking artichoke. I never questioned this bizarre looking vegetable: it was a yearly treat since my mom commonly prepared them when they were in season. But I do remember as a teenager, having a friend see them for the first time and calling them alien food. What was that supposed to mean? He said, it looks like something that some alien creature on Star Trek would be eating. Really? (I think he was just a Trekkie and used that as his benchmark for life) I didn’t see it. But I guess I do now. I can look at the prickly orb and admit that it does look at tad strange.
For us, it was a total treat to find out that Mama was steaming artichokes and preparing her special sauce for it. I didn’t know hollandaise from Kool-Aid, but I did know I loved the sauce. She would set out a platter of these full globes, with their prickly points there to impale our fingers if we weren’t careful. I don’t remember her always trimming them, but I’m sure she did (I can’t imagine she’d let us little kids around such weaponry. Have you ever pierced yourself with an artichoke leaf? It smarts!) One by one, we would pull those leaves off the globe, dip it into some of the sauce, and then slide it into our mouths, scraping the soft flesh with our teeth. Working our way around the globe, we would eventually find the leaves getting softer and softer, with more flesh to savour. And then we’d hit the choke. She taught us how to scrape away the fuzz (nasty to little kids and big kids alike) to reveal the gem at the centre. The artichoke heart. It was so soft, it was creamy! We would cut it into four pieces, and using our forks, would dip each piece into the sauce and then pop it into our eager mouths. Oh yummy! Our hard work had paid off. If the artichoke was large enough, with that sauce, it was dinner. So rich, that there was rarely room for anything else in our happy tummies.
I still get giddy thinking about preparing them now. Jim had never seen an artichoke presented this way. But he has come around. He’s not a dip guy, but if I prepare a heated garlic butter and drizzle it over before presenting it to him, he gladly pulls leaf after leaf, scraping off the flesh just like we did as kids.
When I saw that ‘The Broad Fork‘ included a Steamed Artichoke recipe, I just couldn’t resist. Hugh Acheson‘s recipe for the simmering liquid is beyond a simple water bath. He uses broth, onions, and thyme to add a great flavour to the final artichokes. I loved the improvement to what I had been preparing. This will now be the way I prepare whole artichokes going forward.
These days, being busy, I have resorted to variations on the hollandaise theme. I have even used Greek yogurt mixed with minced garlic, lemon and a touch of mustard. I’m including a hollandaise recipe that I’ve been using that has all the flavours of the original, without all the work on the stove top.
STEAMED ARTICHOKES WITH EASY PEASY HOLLANDAISE SAUCE
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup sliced yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 2 large globe artichokes , top 2 inches sliced off
- 1 cup dry white wine
- Kosher salt
- 1 lemon , cut into wedges
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 8 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 tablespoon hot water
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp dijon mustard (optional)
- thyme or tarragon (see Notes below)
Place a stockpot over low heat and melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in it. Once the butter starts to foam, add the onion, half of the thyme, and the parsley, and begin to sweat the onion. While you prepare the artichokes, the onions will happily hang out over low heat.
Tear off the first few outer leaves from the bottom of each artichoke, as well as any attached to the stem. Then take a knife to cut off the exposed stem, thus creating a base so that the artichokes can stand up.
Add the artichokes to the pot, standing up. Then add the white wine and enough water to cover the artichokes. Bring to a boil over high heat, add enough salt to make the liquid pleasantly salty, and then lower to a simmer. To keep them submerged, place a plate that’s just small enough to fit inside the pot over the artichokes. Cover the pot with a lid and cook the artichokes for about 20 minutes, or until you can slide a knife into the base with no resistance. This will depend on the size of artichokes you are using.
Remove the plate and then the artichokes from the liquid, and place the artichokes on a cutting board to cool. I usually use tongs, so that I can tip the artichoke upside down over the pot to drain out any water that got caught inside the leaves.
Serve on a platter with a bowl of the hollandaise sauce. Working from the outside, pull of one leaf at a time, dip it into some hollandaise and scrape the flesh with your teeth. The outer leaves will have the bare amount of 'flesh'. But as you work in, the leaves get softer and more fleshy. You will eventually get to where the leaves pull off in bunches. Then you will see a fuzzy part, which is called the “choke.” Using a small spoon, remove the choke. You will be left with the heart, the most tender prize of the artichoke. I usually cut this into a few pieces and with a fork dip them into the sauce.
Melt the butter in a small pot over the stove. Allow the butter to begin to bubble, but not reach a full boil.
As butter is melting, add egg yolks and lemon juice into your blender. Blend at a medium to medium high setting until the egg yolk lightens to a light yellow color. This will take about 20-30 seconds.
Slowly drizzle the hot butter into your egg yolks while your blender is at the medium setting. Use a clean kitchen cloth to prevent any spatters of the hot butter onto you as you are pouring.
Add hot water as a final step in blending your hollandaise sauce.
If you prefer your hollandaise sauce a bit thinner, add hot water a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition until the hollandaise reaches the consistency you prefer.
You may add more lemon juice if you prefer more lemon flavor in your hollandaise, as well.
Add a pinch of cayenne pepper to final hollandaise sauce.
If you would like the tang of dijon, add 1 tsp before completing the blending process.
OPTION FOR THE ARTICHOKE You can take a pair of scissors and trim off the tips of each of the outer leaves where there is a nasty barb. The further in you get the barb is less of an issue. Do this before steaming or simmering.
OPTIONS FOR THE HOLLANDAISE SAUCE 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 2 tsp fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped You can make the Hollandaise Sauce ahead of time. If refrigerating, bring back to room temperature before serving.
Hollandaise Sauce adapted from 'Add a Pinch' by Robyn Stone
Adapted from The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits