Artichokes were the first food for which I developed an extreme obsession. Growing up on the East Coast they were only available in season, which last about 6 weeks. Every May when I returned from college I knew my mother would have several cooked ones waiting for me in the refrigerator. I would gorge on artichokes, easily eating two or three in one sitting. Dipping them in homemade vinaigrette and scraping off every last edible bit was my idea of food heaven.
Not until I lived in California did I see an artichoke plant and the sight of my obsession growing on huge aloe-like bushes was astounding. Picking some off of said bushes and then steaming and eating them was almost a supernatural experience. Now that I have grown somewhat accustomed to seeing them growing in fields I am losing some of that first blush of awe, but it has not dulled my enthusiasm for them.
Last week we were experiencing atypically warm weather in L.A. and decided to grill dinner in honor of the heat. Having just procured some artichokes on sale I knew that it was time to try them grilled, the traditional Italian way. Aioli, the homemade garlic mayonnaise, is the traditional dipping sauce used by the French with artichokes and it perfectly complimented the grilled flavor of the artichoke. Incidentally, my dinner guests assured me that aioli would compliment just about anything! Making aioli was simpler than I imagined and it was all quickly eaten up!
2 artichokes per person (or more if you want leftovers)
Trim artichokes by chopping off 1/2 to 1 inch of the tops and snapping off the hard leaves at the base of the globe near the stem. Drop the artichokes in a bowl of water with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice in it since the leaves will begin to brown as soon as they are cut. Peel the outer skin off of the stems (which are edible). In large pot with a lid, steam artichokes, cut side down, in medium boiling water for 15 minutes to parboil them. Remove from pot and allow to cool. Before grilling, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt.
Prepare a charcoal grill and allow coals to burn until they are white and the flames have died down. Cut artichokes in half and grill flat side down for about 5 minutes. Serve immediately or serve chilled.
Aioli (Homemade Mayonnaise with Garlic)
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup safflower oil
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar (or cider vinegar or white vinegar)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon prepared smooth mustard (I used a Dijon)
metal mixing bowl (or ceramic) and whisk, chilled for 15 minutes
In a mortar and pestle mash the garlic and salt together until it is as smooth as you can make it. Transfer to mixing bowl and add egg yolks, whipping with whisk until very well blended. With one hand whisking yolks, begin to add olive oil in drops (using a tablespoon to scoop up some oil and allow it to run drop by drop into the yolks) and beat furiously. The point is to create an emulsion with the yolks and the oil so furious beating is required. If you can see the oil creating rivulets in the yolks, stop adding oil and beat for 10 seconds until it is well combined. Add all of the olive oil in this manner. Add vinegar and beat in well. Add 1/2 of the safflower oil (or other vegetable oil) in the same manner until it is all combined. Your aioli will begin to thicken. Add the lemon juice and mustard, beating well after each addition. Taste for salt and finish adding last of the oil. Chill to allow flavor to meld and intensify. This produces a mayonnaise that is a little thicker than store bought and will keep refrigerated and tightly capped for about 5 days. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.