Artichokes are among the first signs of spring. Today, we will go beyond boiling or steaming to learn how to roast artichokes in the oven - the easiest way to tame this vegetable.
Most artichokes found in your local market come from California, particularly from the area near Castroville. Artichokes thrive in the hot days and cool, foggy nights of the central California coast. They’re at their peak from late March through April and May.
When selecting artichokes, look for a moist and firm stem with crisp leaves. The leaves may have a little brown or golden tinge on their tips, which is a result of the cool nights while growing, not a direct sign of freshness.
Artichokes can be large, medium or small, depending on which section of the artichoke plant they grew on: large from the central stalks, medium from the side shoots and small from the tiny shoots from the lower stems.
I prefer the big guys for roasting, because they yield the most meat from the heart. They take longer to cook than their smaller siblings, but the hearts stay moist and tender under their heavy protective outer leaves.
The rich artichoke screams for acid, lemon or an aged balsamic vinegar to bring out its complex flavor. Add garlic cloves to the roasting pan to enjoy with the artichokes. Don’t forget a few sprigs of fresh herbs to add a little perfume. A little salt and freshly ground black pepper will round out the flavor.
Artichokes contain a unique organic acid, cynarin, that stimulates the sweetness receptors in the taste buds of susceptible people, making everything, particularly wine, taste sweet for a short time.
Roast Artichoke With Lemon, Chives and Butter Sauce
8 large artichokes
2 heads of garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 lemons, rind grated (yellow part only), then juiced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup snipped fresh chives, divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a baking dish or roasting pan large enough to hold the artichokes, combine the artichokes and the garlic cloves (still in their skins). Drizzle with a little olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.
Place on the lower rack of the oven and cook until tender, about 1 hour. Test by inserting a skewer through the base of the artichoke stem into the heart, which should give a little resistance. Remove from the oven and allow to cool just enough to handle.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice and white wine. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Quarter the artichokes. With the cut surfaces facing up, cut through the upper coarse tip of the artichoke until the knife meets resistance in the coarse leaves. Maintain pressure on the knife and pull the inner, delicate artichoke from the coarse outer leaves. Scoop out the artichoke with a spoon or paring knife, then trim the coarse outer leaves and fibrous stems. Keep warm.
Pinch one end of the garlic clove and squeeze out the tender flesh. Discard the skin. Repeat with remaining cloves. Transfer to a small bowl; mash the garlic until smooth with a fork. Reserve.
When the lemon sauce is cool, transfer it to a large bowl. Whisk in the lemon rind, mashed roasted garlic, 2 tablespoons of the chives, parsley and warm, melted butter. Season well with salt and black pepper.
Add the artichokes and toss to coat. Divide and transfer the artichokes among 4 warm serving bowls or plates. Serve immediately with the extra sauce drizzled across the artichokes or on the side. Divide the remaining 2 tablespoons of chives among the 4 servings and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 hearty appetizer servings
Nutrition information per serving: 336 calories, 16 grams fat (43 percent fat calories), 31 milligrams cholesterol, 483 milligrams sodium, 50 grams carbohydrate, 14 grams protein.
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