The first thing I do when I arrive in the City of Light is to get out my rolling cart and head for the organic farmers’ market called Le Marché Bio. We had barely unpacked our bags when we headed to it a couple of Sundays ago. There in all their glory were the jewels of the farmers’ hard work—gorgeous little peas, strawberries that were red all the way through and decadently juicy, cherries so sweet they needed no embellishing, countless bouquets of fresh herbs, and stately artichokes—just possibly my favorite late spring vegetable!
Artichokes in France usually appear in two varieties: the small to medium ones are tinged with purple and call artichauts violets and the others, the incredibly large variety, are artichauts de Bretagne (from Brittany). I couldn’t resist and popped four of the latter in my bag to serve at a small dinner the next night.
Cooking artichokes, no matter the size, is simple. You need a sharp knife to trim off the tops and the stems, and a pair of scissors to remove the pointed tips from the leaves. Then you cook them in a large pot of simmering water for 30 to 45 minutes depending on their size until tender. I prepared a dipping sauce of melted butter scented with chopped mint, chives, and lemon that took about 10 minutes to assemble. This simple recipe made an impressive opener for our meal.
Our Parisian guests (who just happen to be passionate foodies) loved dipping the tender leaves into the luscious warm herbed butter, and declared the dish a winner—entrée gagnante in French!
Artichokes with Lemon Mint Butter
4 medium to large artichokes
Freshly ground black pepper
8 tbsp (one stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Generous 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1. To cook the artichokes, fill a large pot (with a lid) 2/3 full with water, set it over high heat, and bring to a boil.
2.While the water is heating, prepare the artichokes. Using a sharp knife, cut off the stems so that the artichokes will sit upright without wobbling. Place each artichoke on its side and with the knife cut off 3/4 inch from the top. Use scissors to trim the sharp pointed tips from the leaves. Place the trimmed artichokes in the pot and cover with a lid slightly ajar. Cook until artichokes until the bases are tender when pierced with a knife, 30 to 35 minutes for medium artichokes, 45 to 50 minutes or longer for larger ones. Artichokes are done when a sharp knife can pierce their bases easily and when the leaves around the bases can be pulled off easily. (Artichokes can be cooked 2 hours ahead; leave them in the water in which they were cooked, and reheat until warm if necessary.) Remove artichokes from water and drain upside down on a dinner plate.
3. For the mint butter, place the butter, mint, chives, lemon zest and juice, and salt in a medium nonreactive pan set over medium heat. Stir constantly until the butter has melted and is warm, 1 to 2 minutes. (The butter can be prepared 1 hour ahead. Leave at room temperature and reheat over low heat.)
4. Arrange artichokes upright on four salad plates. Spread open leaves, and using tongs pull out the inner pale green leaves and discard. With a teaspoon, scoop out the hairy choke and discard. Salt and pepper the cavities of the artichokes, then spoon a teaspoon or more of the warm butter into the cavities. Divide the remaining butter among 4 small ramekins or bowls. Serve each artichoke with a bowl of the butter for dipping. Serve warm. Serves 4.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2014
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