Artichokes and Hollan-daze

Prior to last night, I had never really eaten an artichoke before. And if you’ve only had artichokes marinated in jars, or done up in dishes with sauces or pastas, thenyou’ve never eaten an artichoke either. When my partner suggested in the produce aisle that we buy artichokes ($1 each at Price Chopper this week) I was a bit skeptical; I had never prepared an artichoke before, in spite of how much I love them, and their spiny, poky leaves seemed….well a bit difficult. But, always ready for a challenge, I agreed. My mind immediately wandered to artichokes and hollandaise sauce, a classic and probably one of the most involved ways to eat an artichoke I could think of. I looked up the recipe and the results were to die for.

As you pull off each tender leaf, there is a small bit of “meat” at the end: this is the stuff. I dipped the leaves in the hollandaise, which I made thicker for the occasion, and scraped the last third of each leaf off, the succulent cream-colored parts the treasure to be discovered in every bite. It may sound melodramatic, but it’s true. I truly believe that artichokes anywhere else, served any other way, are not really artichokes. As you scrape, the whole thing melts in your mouth, the soft plant and smooth egg wedded in their own way. Unforgettable. And it’s funny how, immediately after you’re done, you just want another artichoke even though your stomach is bulging and you don’t want to think about the fat and cholesterol in the steaming bowl of hollandaise.

I opted for a “healthier” hollandaise: I cut the amount of butter to be used by at least half, and the results were delicious anyway! The hollandaise was very flavorful and particularly lemony, thick for scooping and smooth. Plus, there was leftover!

Artichokes and Hollandaise
2 artichokes
3 egg yolks
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. + optional 1 tsp. lemon juice
salt + pepper

-Cut the stem off the artichokes so they balance, snapping off the bottom two rows of leaves with hard pulls so they don’t string.
-Cut the top inch or so off the artichoke and snip the sharp points off the leaves that remain unclipped.
-Bring large saucepan of water to boil and drop the artichokes in. Cover and boil for 35-45 minutes. To test for doneness, take a pair of tongs and try to pull off one of the outer leaves – if it comes off very easily and you’re within the 35-45 minute time span, remove the artichokes from the water. Place in strainer upside down.
-Turn down the heat on the water so that it is simmering lightly. In a metal bowl, combine the egg yolks, water, and 1 tbsp. of lemon juice, whisking around for a few seconds until they are combined and pale.
-Place the mixture over the pot, whisking constantly so the eggs get thick. Make sure the eggs do not begin to scramble; if this happens, remove from heat quickly and continue to whisk. Having a bowl of cold water ready is advisable, but it probably won’t be needed.
-Once the eggs begin to get frothy, begin adding the butter slowly. The butter should be completely melted so it can be dripped into the mixture. Whisk constantly. The sauce will begin to get thick. This should only take a couple of minutes.
-Once all the butter is added, remove from heat (if not already removed) and add salt, pepper, and another tsp. of lemon juice if desired. Serve the hollandaise sauce in a bowl immediately so it stays hot.

Almost too good to be true

To eat the artichokes, peel off the leaves and scrape with your teeth toward the bottom. The leaves are soft and fleshy, and will be easy to pull the meat off of – even better if you dip in hollandaise first! You will get to the tender inner leaves, which are yellow, and you should remove them and scrape the inner parts out. The inside will be “fuzzy” and you will see what looks like unformed leaves – scrape all this out. You will be left with the artichoke heart and the bottom remaining stem; this is all edible and delicious!!

I served this with my polenta, which I made with only 1 and 3/4 cup water to make more firm. On top of the polenta I put a simple cheese mixture of gorgonzola and cream cheese, mixed and melted with dried cranberries and dolloped on top of the polenta. If you like blue cheese, you’ll love this!

Gorgonzola & Cranberry Spread
2:1 ratio gorgonzola and cream cheese (I used 4 tbsp. gorgonzola and 2 tbsp. cream cheese)
dried cranberries to taste

Just mix and melt!

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