In Season/On Special: Artichokes

You’ll find artichokes the size of softballs at Harris Teeter right now (2 for $6 this week)!

Although they can be found year round, I would not bother with fresh artichokes outside of their spring through fall growing season.  The ones I’ve been seeing lately around our

Probably the least intimidating team mascot of all time

neighborhood are just right – heavy, with green compact center leaves.  As for preparation, you can certainly get fancy by frying, grilling or stuffing them.  But a simple preparation of steaming them and serving with a flavored butter or other dipping sauce is my favorite way to enjoy artichokes.  It’s an easy enough weeknight dish.  Just put them in a steamer set in a large pot with a few inches of boiling water, cover and let them steam for 25 – 45 minutes, depending on size.  You’ll know they’re done when you can easily pull off one of the outer leaves.  You can serve them hot, cold or any temperature in between.

I won’t insult you by explaining how to eat one (if you *really* don’t know go ask your mom – or your search engine)!   But here are a few fast ideas for dipping sauces:

– Make a quick aoli style mayonnaise by adding a few cloves of crushed garlic and the juice of about a half a lemon to 1/4 cup of good quality mayonnaise.  The consistency should be closer to heavy cream than mayo.  Read the label carefully when buying mayonnaise.  Many of them contain some sort of sweetener which you do not want in a recipe like this; and probably don’t want in any event.

– Add chopped fresh tarragon to the mayo dipping sauce described above, either with or without the garlic.

– You can also make a nice sauce using mayo thinned out with a little balsamic vinegar.

– Melted butter makes a very nice artichoke dipping sauce, especially when you add a few squeezes of lemon and a little garlic salt.  I also like to add a little Spanish style smoked paprika to a butter sauce like this.

– Plain Greek style yogurt is a lighter alternative to butter or mayonnaise.  Use one with a 2% fat content, this will give it a little more oomph.  Mix about 1/4 cup of yogurt with a couple of teaspoons of dijon style mustard, a dash of salt and the juice of half a lemon.  You can also mix the yogurt with a few tablespoons of fresh salsa for a totally different take on things.

Artichokes contain a chemical called cynarin which, while having antioxidant and other beneficial properties, on the other hand has the unfortunate side effect of making things taste sweeter than they actually are.  That’s why finding a wine to pair with artichokes is notoriously challenging.  But you and I are made of sterner stuff!

First of all, make sure that dipping sauce is not sweet in any way shape or form.  You are going to want to balance out the cynaric induced sweetness of the vegetable with a big hit of acid*, fat and salt.  Then pick a wine.  Think zippy, fragrant and fresh.  A little fruit will work well, but make sure whatever you pick is ultimately very dry.  Maybe go the grassy, herbal route with a Gruner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc.  Or else pick a classic dry French rose, with just enough fruit to make things interesting.  A nice one to try is First Vine’s Cave la Vinsobraise Côtes du Rhône Rosé 2010 ($12).    A refreshing wine with a light strawberry/currant flavor profile, some citrus, and a clean, satisfying finish.

Bon appetit!

* When I refer to hits of acid I of course mean things like lemon and vinegar.  Although the other kind might also make it easier to decide on a wine!

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