Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ingredient + Heat = Grilled Artichokes

Fig.1. Big and small artichokes. An artichoke is a flower bud yet to blossom. The purple part you see is the actual flower, which, if left to grow would blossom. If the hairy "choke" part bothers you, just scoop it out with a small spoon. The smaller variety don't have the hairy chokes. Also, to test an artichoke's freshness, bend a leaf, if it snaps it's fresh, if it bends over, it's past its prime.

I was at the market the other day evaluating some artichokes when a woman tells me, “I would love to make artichokes but I don’t know what to do with them.” To which I simply replied, “You cook them.” Now before you assume that I was being a smart-ass let me just say that while I might have been stating the obvious it is sometimes the very obvious that eludes us.
Cooking shows and recipe books often complicate food preparation, forgetting the most basic of cooking principles: Ingredient + Heat = Food. And with this formula in mind I told the inquisitive lady to forget about removing the stems, outside leaves, and tops of the artichokes, forget about soaking them in water, and forget about rubbing them with lemon juice; cut them in half, grill them, and when they’re done, drizzle them with vinaigrette.
The lady looked at me as though I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about but I insisted that she give it a try. She told me that she never heard of grilled artichokes before and that I must be thinking of asparagus. I proceeded to tell her that I was quite aware of the difference between asparagus and artichokes and that I recently returned from a trip to Italy where grilling artichokes is very common, hoping this would reassure her, but I still sensed some apprehension on her part, so, I was forced to give her a Hungry Italian business card while I continued to rant about the needless butchering most celebrity cooks inflict on the helpless artichoke. She put some artichokes in a bag, and like a hiker who inadvertently walks upon a sleeping bear, she slowly took some steps toward the cash register, facing me all the while. If you're reading this, lady, let me know how your artichokes turned out.

Fig.2. Believe me when I tell you nothing on earth smells as good as grilled artichokes. It takes a little practice and technique (a lot of it depends on your barbecue) but the reward is in the smell and taste.

Set your grill to medium high and preheat for 10 minutes. Cut your artichokes in half just before you grill them (otherwise they will begin to turn brown.) Oil your barbecue grates and place the artichokes cut side down. Close the lid and grill for about ten minutes. Turn the artichokes and brush the cut side with olive oil, cook, uncut side down, for about thirty minutes. Lower the heat to medium low—the leafy side of the artichoke should blacken. The outside pedals themselves are inedible so it’s alright if they burn slightly, they also shield the artichoke hearts from the flames allowing the interior of the vegetable to cook. If they are getting too black simply cook the artichokes over indirect heat. The artichokes do require about 40 to 45 minutes of cooking time, less for the smaller variety. To check for doneness, pierce artichoke heart with a knife, if it slides in easily, they're ready.

These are best eaten with you hands, starting from the blackened, outside pedals, pull the pedals one at a time and suck on them. Repeat until you reach the heart.

Fig.3. Salt the artichokes and drizzle liberally with a vinaigrette. The vinaigrette used here consists of lots of olive oil, crushed garlic, lemon juice, and a variety of fresh herbs.

Artichokes-The Italian Way
Here are some pictures of artichokes cooking in a bed of smoldering vine branches. A foodie friend from Rome made these on my last trip to Italy. The artichokes are hollowed out and stuffed with garlic leaves, marjoram and a whole lot of olive oil. They are then placed directly into the hot wood and left for about one hour. The outside leaves burn but the inside, with flavours of smoke, oil, garlic, and flowers, is nothing short of sublime. I was told that only vine branches can be used because of their ability to smolder slowly. In wine regions, vine branches are plentiful in the Spring, when vineyards are pruned. I'm going to try it one day soon with lump, hardwood charcoal, I'll keep you posted.

No comments: