While fall might be my favorite time of year for cozy dinners, summer is my favorite time of year for simplicity. See how I do that? I unabashedly allow myself to have two favorite seasons, much in the same way I allow myself to have two favorite children (not to worry, I only have the two). A perfect example is dessert. As these fruit-growing-in-all-its-glory weeks blow by all too quickly, it doesn’t get much better than perfectly ripe, locally grown plums, nectarines or a bowl of berries. The same is often true of vegetables.
Let’s say you are lucky enough to stumble upon or grow an heirloom tomato in its prime. All you have to do to achieve culinary perfection is to keep this beauty away from the stove. Instead, give it a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, maybe a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar, a crack of sea salt, a crack of pepper and some fresh basil leaves. Or like the recipe here, a whole artichoke with a side of lemony red chile hollandaise (a side of melted butter or herby and garlicky aioli is just as delightful). Now that I’m thinking about it, a whole globe artichoke with some kind of dipping sauce and slices of heirloom tomato on the side sounds like the perfect summer lunch.
There are many ways to prepare an artichoke, but I love the simplicity and ease of throwing a couple of artichokes in salted boiling water, coming back a half-hour later and lunch is done. Depending on the size of the artichoke, you could eat this on its own or pair it with some kind of grain salad, roasted vegetables, chicken, fish or even eggs and bacon.
The key to enjoying a globe artichoke is in the eating. It’s like going on a quest. First you pick the leaves one at a time. At the base of each leaf lives the artichoke “meat.” This is the part you dip in sauce, then scrape with either your top or bottom teeth. After many little bites of deliciousness, you reach the next level where the inner leaves become smaller and more tender, eventually so much so that you can eat multiple leaves at the same time, being careful not to eat and to discard the sharp purple tops of the leaves. Then, you must traverse through the fuzzy layer called the choke. Using a spoon, scrape underneath the choke to remove it in its entirety. This part of the artichoke is not edible, so take your time, making sure to remove every hair. Now at last you’ve reached your destination and found the heart — the most flavorful, tender and meaty few bites of the artichoke.
Artichokes & Red Chile Hollandaise
Makes: 4 servings;
total time: 30 minutes
For the artichokes:
4 large globe artichokes
1 lemon, sliced
For the hollandaise:
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and warm
red chile powder and salt, to taste
Preparation: Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. While the water is heating, prepare the artichokes: Remove the row of tough leaves surrounding the stem. Remove all but 1 inch of the stem. Now cut or saw off (I use a bread knife) the top third of the leaves (those farthest away from the stem). Add the trimmed artichokes and lemon slices to the pot of boiling water. Use a heat-proof small- to medium-sized plate to sit on top of the artichokes so they stay submerged. Place a lid over the pot and cook until the stems are tender when pierced with a knife, around 20-45 minutes depending on the size of the artichoke.
As the artichokes are cooking, prepare the hollandaise: While your melted butter is staying warm, Place the egg yolks, water, lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a blender. Blend until frothy. Now slowly (slowly! And in a very thin stream) pour the warm, melted butter into the blender while it is running, until all is incorporated and the sauce has thickened. At this point, you can thin it out with a little warm water (I usually use a spoonful as needed from the warm artichoke water that’s still on the stove), and add salt and red chile powder to taste.
To serve: When the artichokes are fully cooked, transfer them to a colander to drain before transferring them to a plate with a ramekin of hollandaise on the side.