Steamed Artichokes with Lemon-Butter Dip

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

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How would you describe a familiar food to a person who has never tasted it before? This is a game my husband and I love to play: to have each of us describe the food that is in front of us - the smell, the texture, the flavor. Sometimes our descriptions match, sometimes they differ, but more frequently, together we come up with a more complete description of the food. Try it. Close your eyes, savor what is in front of you, and try to describe it. You might discover new flavors or textures that you haven't noticed before, bringing a new experience to a familiar dish as you employ your senses.

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Eating an artichoke can be a long process, and it is easy to get impatient as one tries to get to the sweet, buttery artichoke heart. So we savored the flesh of each leaf, trying to describe the elusive taste. They have the texture reminiscent of boiled root vegetables, similar to perhaps a young potato or a beet but fibrous enough to give the texture more complexity. They taste buttery and nutty, with just a bit of sweetness. Although there is a variety of dips or sauces that can be had with artichokes, from Hollandaise sauce to a mayonnaise dip, I find a simple lemon-butter dip complements the taste of the artichokes the most.

Steamed Artichokes with Lemon-Butter Dip
(Serves 2)

You will need:
2 artichokes, rinsed
1/2 lemon cut into wedges
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley and dill
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground pepper
1/2 stick salted butter
1 tsp lemon juice, or to taste

Directions:

1. To prepare the artichokes by removing the tiny thorns topping each leaf, slice off about 1/2 inch off the top of the artichoke with a knife. Then with utility scissors, trim 1/4 inch off the top of each remaining leaf.

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With a knife, cut off the artichoke's stem, leaving a 1/4 inch stump. Make sure you do not cut at an angle, so that the artichoke can sit upright on a flat surface.

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2. Fill a large pot with 1 to 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and add garlic, lemon, parsley and dill, bay leaf and salt and pepper. Stir. Decrease the heat to a simmer and carefully lower the steaming basket into the pot. Then place the artichokes, upright, into the steaming basket. Cover and steam for forty minutes. Artichokes are done when a knife goes into the bottom of the stem like into butter.

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3. Once the artichokes are done, remove them from the pot with tongs and place onto the serving plates. Melt butter in a microwave or in a small sauce-pan, whisk in the lemon juice and pour into a small serving bowl. Serve the artichokes with the lemon-butter dip.

Tip: how to eat the artichokes
Peel off a leaf, starting from the bottom of the artichoke. Dip the bottom of the leaf (which has the soft, buttery artichoke flesh) into the lemon-butter dip and scrape the artichoke flesh off with your teeth. Discard the remaining part of the leaf. Repeat with every leaf, until you reach the white artichoke "heart." Remove the purplish-white young leaves and discard them. With a spoon, scrape off and discard the fuzzy "choke" covering the heart. Dip the heart into the lemon-butter dip and enjoy.

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