Growing up in California, I took fresh artichokes for granted. After all, Castroville – the town that bills itself as "the artichoke capital of the world" – is right there in the central coastal part of the state, not far from Monterey. I used to love stopping there on road trips and seeing the giant concrete artichoke sculpture that greets you at the edge of town.
In the spring and summertime, my mom always steamed artichokes and served them as an appetizer with melted butter to dip the leaves in. I love them even more dipped in mayo, or a mustardy red wine vinaigrette. Wylie loves it with balsamic vinaigrette.
A classic French way to serve artichokes is à la vinaigrette – that is, actually dressed in the vinaigrette; shallot vinaigrette suits them particularly well. Pouring the sauce over them while they're still warm lets the vinaigrette penetrate the leaves – no additional dipping sauce required. An artichoke vinaigrette is also pretty beautiful. It's great as a sit-down starter at a dinner party or as a sharable treat before the dinner gets started.
A few years ago, I served boiled artichokes as an appetizer to new friends in Texas, and was surprised that they found them exotic. "How do you eat them?" they asked. We showed them how to pull off a leaf, dip it in sauce, scrape off the meaty part (closest to the crown) with your teeth and discard the rest of the leaf. When all the leaves are gone and only the thin, prickly ones at the heart remain, you pull those off, scrape the fuzz off the crown with a spoon, and eat the heart – the prize! – which is also delicious dipped in mayo or vinaigrette.
Many cooks boil artichokes rather than steaming them. I've prepared them both ways, and find that boiling them in plenty of salted water gives them the best texture. Acidulating the water with lemon juice (as some cooks do to prevent discoloration) is unnecessary; I find the results to be the same with unacidulated water. Instead, after I trim them, I simply rub the cut surfaces with half a lemon.
For a party of four to eight, I often make two artichokes and serve it with another app or two. For a dinner party, you can serve one per person, or for a more casual dinner, one for every two to share.
So, how to trim them? You can get all fancy, and remove the chokes if you want to, but I usually don't.
Once you do it once or twice, it's easy. Using a sharp serrated knife, slice off the stem, creating a flat surface for the artichoke to rest on. Then slice off the top straight across – removing the tops of the inner few rows of leaves. Next use your fingers to break off the tough row or two of small leaves around the bottom.
Finally, use kitchen scissors to snip off any remaining leaf tips (be careful – there's a prickle at the top of each). Rub the cut surfaces with half a lemon and they're ready to cook.
Boil them in lots of salted water in a covered pot. Don't worry if they bob up to the top; flip them over with a spoon once or twice so they cook evenly. While they're cooking, whisk together the vinaigrette.
Drain the artichokes upside down, then dress them with the vinaigrette. Voilá. Easy, chic, delicious and healthy. And there are a couple of bonuses: You can serve them warm, or make them ahead, serving them chilled or at room temperature. And . . . they're vegan!
Ready to try? Here you go!