When I was a child, steamed artichokes were my very favorite vegetable. Bitter and creamy, almost meaty at their heart, you could give childhood me an artichoke and a little puddle of butter, stand back, and watch in amazement as I picked it clean of all the parts you can possibly eat.
My mother made them on a fairly regular basis. Steamed artichokes were easy and could be done a day ahead. And my own partiality for them aside, both she and my father would devour them with visible pleasure, and sometimes go back for more.
I was so attached to steamed artichokes in particular that the first time I encountered them another way — stuffed with bread crumbs and crab meat, cracked pepper and Romano cheese — they left me at a loss. So upset was I, at the age of seven or eight, that I wanted nothing to do with them. So upset was I that it’s one of a mere handful of childhood food experiences that I remember vividly to this day.
The offending artichokes were course number two at a fancy New Orleans restaurant, preceded by delicious oysters Rockefeller, and succeeded by — you know, I don’t remember after all. That’s how distraught I was.
You don’t usually think of bitter vegetables as sources of childhood pleasure. Certainly, you wouldn’t think it of a fiddly vegetable, with thorny leaves, and a feathery, inedible choke. But there you have it. As a child, I was an artichoke-eating fool.
Today, I find that I make steamed artichokes less and less. Not because I don’t still love them, but because during CSA season, which now comprises most of the year, I don’t make a habit of buying a whole lot of supplementary vegetables at the grocery. It is enough most weeks to get through the weighty bags of carrots and parsnips, or the rainbow-colored chard. Anything additional would likely go to waste.
And yet — sometimes I get a hankering. Sometimes I see them there on ice, looking perfect with their petals squeezed into a tight ball, and I can’t help it. Like Rapunzel’s mother, I peer over the garden wall, my childhood self floats to the surface, and before I know it, I’m pawing through the pile.
And that’s what happened this week. After a considerable artichoke drought, I stumbled upon a display of them at our local big corporate grocery that looked so good, so right, that I had to have some. I took four home, steamed them with lemon and garlic and bay leaves, and had my own private artichoke feast.
I made them just like my mother — almost.
Almost as if to prove that my tastes have matured over the years, that I’ve developed a greater tolerance for artichoke eccentricities, I decided that I would give up on the butter this time around, and make a flavored mayonnaise, instead. Bursting with garlic, lemon, and tarragon, it balances the bitterness of the artichoke with a touch of herbal sweetness. And it complements it with a touch of heat.
So well did my mayo work, in fact, that my inner eight year old complained not even once. I enjoyed it. Sarah enjoyed it. My childhood self was utterly delighted. And I imagine that you (dear readers!) probably will be too.
For the Artichoke:
4 Large Artichokes
1 1/2 cups Water
5 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
2 Bay Leaves
12 Whole Peppercorns
For the Mayonnaise:
1 cup Vegetable Oil
2 Cloves of Garlic, minced very fine and crushed
1/2 tsp Dried Tarragon, pulverized
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
To make the artichokes: To a heavy-lidded pot or dutch oven over low heat, add the water, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and a generous pinch of salt. Wash the lemon and cut it in half. Squeeze one half into the water, and then toss in the squeezed-out rind.
Trim the artichokes, cutting off the stems and tops with a heavy kitchen knife, and then snipping the tips of all the leaves with a pair scissors or kitchen shears. As you trim, rub the artichokes with the other half of the lemon to keep it from rusting.
Place the artichokes stem-side down in the pot. Then squeeze the second half of the lemon over them, and toss that squeezed-out rind into the pot as well.
Cover the pot and let the artichokes steam for 40-45 minutes, until you can pass a paring knife through the stem side without very much resistance.
Remove from the water, and allow them to cool thoroughly.
To make the mayonnaise: To a quart-size pitcher or bowl, add the egg, minced garlic, tarragon, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. And to a pint-size pitcher, add one cup of vegetable oil.
With an electric egg-beater set to high, beat the contents of the quart-size pitcher for about thirty seconds. Then, continuing to beat, very slowly drizzle in the oil. As it drizzles, it should begin to emulsify with the egg and thicken. The more oil that is added, the thicker it will become, until, by the time you have used up all the oil, it should look passably like mayonnaise.
When the mayonnaise is done, taste, and add more salt as necessary. Cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to blend.
These artichokes are great as a main dish or an appetizer. As a main dish, I would serve one whole artichoke per dinner guest. Otherwise, half an artichoke is probably ample. If you plan to halve the artichokes, cut them longitudinally down the middle, and then, with a butter knife or spoon, scrape out the feathery choke and discard before serving. It’s the fancy touches, after all, that make them so luxurious.
* It is important, here, that your egg be as fresh as possible, as you will be eating it raw. If raw eggs concern you, or if you are serving this dish to children or the immuno-compromised, you might consider pasteurizing your egg. You can find instructions, here.