For the uninitiated, cooking – and eating – an artichoke may seem like a daunting task. The prickly, tough-textured outside of the artichoke doesn’t seem particularly appetizing at first glance. After all, the artichoke is a close relative of the thistle and shares many of its characteristics. But beneath the leathery leaves of the artichoke lies a tender treasure – the sweet flesh that covers the base of each leaf and, best of all, the large meaty base or “heart” of the artichoke.
Artichokes can be grown in all temperate regions with an adequate growing season, but most of the artichokes consumed in the United States are grown in the cool, foggy stretches of coastal California south of San Francisco. Chances are, if you’re eating a fresh artichoke, it was grown in Monterey County, California.
Cooking an artichoke may be a mystery to many, but it’s not particularly difficult, once you know how. We prefer steaming to boiling artichokes. Steamed artichokes are a pleasure to eat – firm and crisp, yet tender & succulent; boiled artichokes are too frequently soggy and mushy in texture.
To eat, pull the leaves from the artichoke one at a time, dipping the meaty base of each leaf into the aioli, then pulling through your teeth to enjoy the tender, sweet flesh. Discard the remaining tough leaf. As you work your way inward, you’ll find that the progressively smaller leaves closest to the heart are very tender and depending on the individual artichoke, you can sometimes eat the whole leaf, or even clusters of leaves.
When most of the leaves have been removed, you’ll come to the fuzzy, hair-like “choke.” Scoop it out with a spoon and discard. The large, delicious heart of the artichoke is your reward. Slice it into pieces and slowly savor it, bit by bit.
Steamed Artichokes with Ramp Aioli
Fresh artichokes are available for much of the year, but it’s spring, so we’ve paired them with a special dipping sauce made from one of the season’s most delicious wild offerings – fresh ramps, also known as wild leeks. The fresh, wild flavor of ramps is the perfect match to the sweetness of the artichoke, making it one of our favorite dishes this time of year.
- 2 – 4 large fresh artichokes (1 per person)
- 1 lemon
- Ramp Aioli (recipe below)
Place a steamer basket or rack into the bottom of a large pot, big enough to hold all of the artichokes in a single layer without crowding. Add enough water to come up just to the bottom of the basket. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Wash the artichokes under cold water and cut the stems an inch or so from the base of the artichoke. Pull off the lower, tough leaves from around the base of the stem. Cut off the top inch of the artichoke and rub with a slice of lemon to preserve the bright color. The thorny tips of the leaves may be trimmed flat with scissors, if desired, but it’s not really necessary.
Place the artichokes into the steamer basket or rack, bottom side up. Top the stem of each artichoke with a thin slice of lemon to prevent discoloration. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Steam medium artichokes for 30 – 35 minutes, larger artichokes for 40 – 45 minutes, or until a leaf can just be pulled away from the artichoke without too much difficulty. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool with the lid slightly ajar. When cool enough to handle, remove the artichokes from the pot and put on a plate, bottom-side up to drain and cool. The base of the artichoke should be tender, but firm – not soft and soggy.
Serve chilled or at room temperature, either whole or split with the inner fuzzy “choke” scooped out. Serve with 1/4 cup of ramp aioli per artichoke, or more as desired.
Make ahead options: The artichokes may be cooked up to two days in advance and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator shortly before serving to warm slightly.
Other serving options: If ramp aioli is not your thing, serve the steamed artichokes with melted butter, ranch dressing, vinaigrette or plain mayonnaise.
Aioli is essentially a garlicky mayonnaise that is a traditional sauce and spread in the Provencal region of France. Our version incorporates a North American native, the wild ramp (or wild leek), in place of the garlic. The resulting mixture with rich flavors of egg, olive oil and pungent ramps, bears little resemblence to commercial mayonnaise. The small amount of effort required is amply rewarded by the luxurious taste & feel of a classic condiment, updated for our enjoyment.
Ramp aioli is fantastic with vegetables, such as steamed artichokes, but it’s equally good as an easy sauce for grilled & poached fish, a zippy sandwich spread, or a classic garnish for traditional Mediterranean soups and stews like bouillabaisse.
- 4 -5 medium ramps with tops
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
- 1 large egg (* see below for information on using raw eggs)
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup grapeseed or canola oil
- Salt, to taste
Rinse the ramps well and trim off the root. Cut off the green leaves. Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil and blanch the ramp leaves for about 30 seconds, then immediately plunge into an icewater bath. Remove the leaves from the icewater bath, and pat dry. Roll the leaves up in a paper towel or clean dish towel and squeeze as much liquid out as possible. Set aside.
Chop the ramp bulbs & stems coarsely. Place the chopped ramps, the blanched ramp greens, mustard powder, lemon juice, vinegar, a pinch of salt and the egg into a food processor. Process until fairly smooth, about 30 seconds.
Mix the oils together in a measuring cup. With the food processor running, pour in the oil blend very slowly in a thin stream. After about half the oil has been incorporated, the mixture should begin to thicken and you can pour the rest of the oil a little faster. Stop the processor and taste the aioli, adding salt or a few more drops of vinegar if desired. Scrape down the sides of the processor with a spatula, then pulse for a few seconds for a final mix. Put into a clean jar and set aside for an hour to allow all the flavors to blend before using.
Refrigerate in a tightly closed container for one to two weeks.
* Using raw eggs
Most adults have little to worry about when eating properly stored & handled raw eggs, but if you are concerned about consuming raw eggs due to the slight risk of salmonella or other food-borne illness, we recommend you use only fresh, properly refrigerated, clean grade A or AA eggs with unbroken shells. You can further minimize any risk by avoiding contact between the yolks or whites and the outer shell. Other options include using pasteurized eggs or “coddled” eggs (whole eggs that have been immersed in boiling water for 1 minute, then plunged into an icewater bath).
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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