Here in the San Francisco Bay Area we are fortunate to be living not far from Castroville, the self-proclaimed Artichoke Capital of the World. Nearly 100% of the artichokes cultivated in the United States are here in California, with 80% of that number being grown in Monterey County. Who would have ever imagined that a perennial thistle originating in southern Europe around the Mediterranean would become such a gastronomic delight! As a youngster growing up on a farm I only knew thistles as weeds, undesireable plants that needed to be chopped out of the fields of soybeans we would walk each year, armed with hoes, walking many miles each season under the hot sun. The rows of beans seemed endless on some days, particularly if the targeted plants had happened to grow and flourish in large patches! I must admit, however, that the purple blooms were quite attractive! Fortunately that particular variety of thistle is not the one we relish and enjoy at our dinner tables today!
What is it about the artichoke that makes it so desireable? Admittedly, the portion that is edible is but a small percentage of the artichoke as a whole! We ritualistically remove each of the leaves in our quest to enjoy the small portion of delectable flesh at the base of each leaf, religiously working from the outside in, dipping each leaf into the traditional mayonnaise or aioli. But then comes the prize… the heart! If we are fortunate, it will be large, worth all of the effort it took to get there. Eating an artichoke is almost like going on a treasure hunt… sometimes we are disappointed when we get to the treasure… and other times we are thrilled! When the heart is exceptionally large with a soft and silky texture we tend to eat it slowly, savoring each delicious bite knowing that the enjoyment of this wonderfully globed jewel is short-lived. When it is gone we simply look wistfully at the mound of discarded leaves, longing for the next time we can once again replicate this sacred moment!
For years in our home the artichoke has been simply steamed and served with mayonnaise, the experience being quite satisfying. Not long ago, however, I thought it time to become more adventurous. Years ago while on a business trip to Los Angeles I stayed at a hotel that had roasted artichokes on its dining room and room service menus. Out of curiosity I ordered one and, to my great delight, discovered that it was absolutely delicious! It was so delicious, in fact, that I would always order an additional two each time I stayed there to bring home with me on my flight back to San Francisco so we could reheat and enjoy them for dinner. What I remembered most about them was that the roasting had given them a flavorful dimension I had never before experienced. It was time to be creative! Following a quick trip to Berkeley Bowl West, a spectacular new market here in the East Bay that is a food lover’s dream, to purchase my Green Globe artichokes, I plucked a couple of lemons from the Meyer lemon tree in our garden, grabbed the container of whole peeled garlic from the fridge and took a jar of my homemade caramelized garlic from the pantry and feverishly went to work, preheating the oven and trimming the huge artichokes I had brought home with me.
OVEN ROASTED ARTICHOKES WITH CARAMELIZED GARLIC AIOLI
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Line a sheet pan with foil (optional… I like to use it because it makes clean-up so much easier), trim each artichoke, allowing one per person, by cutting about half an inch off the top of each and trimming each leaf with a scissors. Slice each globe in half vertically… it is not necessary to remove the choke as it will be easily scooped out following roasting.
To the sheet pan generously pour:
Extra virgin olive oil, four or five turns
To the oil add:
1 -2 T dried thyme
Place each artichoke half into the oil and thyme mixture, turning each so it is well coated with oil. Set the artichokes momentarily aside and slice:
2 lemons (6-8 slices per lemon)
Arrange the lemon slices on the oiled sheet pan. Add to the pan:
15 – 20 garlic cloves, halved
Place the oiled artichoke halves over the lemon slices and garlic, cut side down.
Cover the pan with foil, place in oven and roast for approximately 1 hour 15 minutes (I like to check the progress at about the one hour mark). Remove pan from oven and loosen the foil. Allow the artichokes to cool until able to be handled. While the artichokes are cooling, mix together:
1/2 C mayonnaise (approximately)
2 generous T caramelized garlic (or to taste)
1 – 2 tsp lemon juice
1 – 2 pinches salt
Gently remove the choke from each artichoke half with a spoon. Place a generous dollop of aioli in each, or serve on the side in a small bowl for dipping. The roasted garlic slices in the pan are exceptionally delicious as well and can be eaten along with your artichoke as part of this sacred ritual… Bon Appetit!
Copyright 2009 Via Aurea Designs, Inc., All Rights Reserved