You might just trade in that crown of thorns for a bowl of thistles when you see the gorgeous artichokes with homemade mayo that we’re dishing up this week. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in the “Christ is risen” department, too, with a beautiful loaf of homemade no-knead bread. All of which should look nice on the coffee table in Purgatory while I await eternal damnation.
Sure, you’ve got your classic holy trinity. And I’m not saying some people wouldn’t be happy enough with that one on Easter. But this is America, and it’s spring — so why not strive for a little more? Another trinity. An opening act for the Big Man. A guilt-free way (well, no marginal guilt, that is — I’m not offering miracles here) to take just one trinity and turn it into a triple-double. (Conveniently, thereby also uploading my entire knowledge of basketball jargon to the internet. You’re welcome!) One, homemade bread. Two, an excuse to pretend artichokes are already in season on the East Coast. Three, Green Goddess dressing, or homemade mayonnaise — or, well, who’s to stop you from making both? Father, Son, Spirit. Bread, Artichokes, Mayo. One, two, three. There’s a fork in the road to heaven, but both paths will get you there.
Another time, I’ll do much more justice to homemade bread (or recruit umami boy to do so). Like homemade mayo, it’s much easier to pull off than you’d think. For now, let’s just say that the only thing more befitting of a place in the trinity than crusty, chewy easy-as-hell bread is crusty, chewy, easy-as-hell bread made entirely by one’s husband. Here’s a link to the basic no-knead bread recipe from Breadtopia.com that umami boy used to knock my Grandma’s socks off on Easter.
Artichokes and Dips
Let’s be honest — artichokes can be kind of a bitch to prepare. They’re pokey, and there’s that furry part on the inside. (It’s already named the choke, so it’s not like we’re covering new ground here.) They do quite resemble grenades. This season, the California artichokes in our markets are “frost nipped,” or speckled with brown on the outside. And there will always be the temptation of that slotted spoon at the olive bar, which will lead you to fairly beautiful, often fairly delicious marinated artichokes, with no more elbow grease than it takes to scoop them into a flimsy plastic container.
But if I know you at all, none of that can hold a candle to your sense of adventure. Am I right? Dig in — it’s lots of fun; there’s plenty of help out there; and you can officially ignore those finicky types with all their talk about fancy tip snipping and de-choking while the thing is whole. Artichokes taste just as good — and, I think, might look even more beautiful, without so much extra work.
Preparing Simple Hors d’Oeuvre Artichokes for 6-8 People
At the market, choose two tightly closed artichokes that feel heavy for their size. When you get them home, wash them off, and fill a medium bowl halfway with cold water. Have a lemon half at the ready.
Fill a large pot halfway with water. Add 1 T. salt, a dried bay leaf, 1 T. dried thyme, half an onion, cut into chunks (no need to peel it), a clove or two of garlic, crushed, and the lemon half. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.
To prepare each artichoke, cut a thin slice off the bottom of the stem and discard it. Classically, people cut off the top third or so of the artichoke with a chef’s knife and then use kitchen shears to cut the prickly tips off each of the remaining outer leaves. Those two steps are optional for our purposes. Cut each artichoke in half lengthwise (from tip to stem), and then cut each half into thirds lengthwise. You will be left with six pieces like you see in the picture above. Working quickly, rub a little lemon juice on the cut surfaces to prevent browning, and submerge the pieces in the bowl of water. (They will want to float. If you decide you care, keep them down with a plate or colander — good luck to you.)
One by one, remove the artichoke sections from the bowl, and cut out and discard the triangle of fuzzy choke that sits on the inside of the section where the leaves meet the stem. Put each de-choked section into the pot of boiling water. When you’ve transferred all the sections to the pot, cover the pot, reduce the heat to keep the water at a brisk simmer, and cook until the stems, and the edible parts of the outer leaves, are tender. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes or longer, depending on the whim of the artichoke gods, so you’ll just have to test once in a while.
For further instruction, the internet abounds with useful links on artichoke preparation and cooking. If you want to have a look at step-by-step pictures for trimming a whole artichoke in the classic style or need further instruction on which parts are edible, have a gander at this article on Simply Recipes. If you have a pressure cooker, you might want to try the much quicker cooking method described here at Kalyn’s Kitchen.
On Easter, we dipped our artichokes into Molly Wizenberg’s Green Goddess Dressing from Bon Appetit Magazine. (I whisked the cream quite a bit to give the finished product a little more body as a dip.) That dressing is excellent — it got rave reviews even from my dad, an ectomorph (and stalwart non-dieter) who, in the 1970s, was once served something called Weight Watchers Green Goddess Chicken and never quite forgave the name. However, you really can’t beat homemade mayonnaise as an artichoke dip. Or, frankly, as an afternoon activity. Or a workout.
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature (I’m not a fussbudget about much, but the room temperature part is really very important)
1 t. Dijon mustard
¼ t. salt, plus more to taste
Up to ¾ cup oil – I like a mild olive oil or equal parts olive and canola
1 T. lemon juice, white wine vinegar or a combination, plus more to taste (I often use a combination of lemon juice and tarragon vinegar)
You can do this in a food processor or blender, but there’s no better sound than the clankety-scrape of whisk against metal bowl, and no prouder feeling than watching a bowl of dribs and drabs become a thick, luscious homemade mayo by your own exhausted, cramping hand. Seriously.
At first you’ll think you need three hands to do this; but you really just need the two hands, your cojones, and a large kitchen towel. (Keep reading – don’t analyze too much.) Place a large metal bowl on the counter and use the towel to make a little nest around and under the bottom of the bowl so it won’t slip while you’re whisking.
Combine the egg yolk, mustard and salt in the bowl and whisk for about 30 seconds, until the mixture starts to lighten in color a bit. Then, drip by drip at first, pour the oil into bowl while whisking constantly. Take it very slowly until you start to see an emulsion form. (You’ll know it when you see it.) Then you can pick up the pace a bit, adding the oil in a slow stream, still whisking constantly until you’ve used all or almost all of the oil. Rather than rush, it’s better to err on the side of slow pouring, which, if anything, will leave you with an overly thick mayo that you can thin out with a bit of water at the end if you want. Once the oil is incorporated, whisk in the lemon juice and/or vinegar. Taste and correct the seasoning with more salt, lemon juice or vinegar if you like. It’s a bit of work, for sure, but there’s really nothing like the taste. Did I mention that?