Steamed Artichokes with Garlic-Spruce Aioli
Artichokes are a springtime delicacy, most often enjoyed by Mediterranean cultures. They’re often available in North America all year, but the best time to buy them is in their peak season in May and June.
Another springtime delicacy that is ready at the same time is the spruce tip. Spruce tips, or any conifer tip (other than the Ponderosa pine which has been known to be toxic to pregnant women), are the bright emerald green young tips found on the end of spruce branches in the spring. When picked young, they are tender, citrusy, and flavourful, and can be used in any number of ways.
One of my favourites is like this: in an aioli with garlic. The steamed artichoke petals get dipped into the garlic-spruce aioli, then pulled through closed front teeth to get the tasty nugget of artichoke meat on the base of the petal.
This is fun, hands-on food and a special treat you can make every spring!
If you want to save time, you can simply mix minced spruce tips and garlic into real mayonnaise, but I think the aioli is much nicer, especially since this is generally a once or twice a year treat.
- Prep Time20 min
- Cook Time30 min
- Total Time50 min
- Yield2 big servings for lunch, or 4-6 servings as an appetizer
- 3 large globe artichokes
- 1/4 cup (handful) spruce tips
- 1 large garlic clove, minced and crushed into a paste
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon (1.5g) kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon (0.6g) black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) water
- 1/4 cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil
To harvest spruce tips, find a spruce tree in the spring that has bright green tender tips on the end of each branch. The optimal time in Eastern Ontario is mid-May, but that will change from region to region.
To harvest, simply pluck off the green tips. Be sure to harvest lightly, taking only a handful from each tree, so as not to deal the tree any lasting harm.
To prepare the artichokes:
Trim off the bottom inch of the stem.
Trim off the top inch of the artichoke, cutting through the tough petals and exposing the inner core.
Use your fingers to pull off the bottom few leaves attached to the stem and base, they are too tough to eat.
Use a knife or vegetable peeler to peel the skin off of the stem.
Fill a pot with about 2 inches (5cm) water and put the three artichokes in the pot.
Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce heat to low.
Steam for 30 minutes, checking towards the end to make sure there is still water in the pot. If it is about to dry up, add another splash of water.
Meanwhile, mince the spruce tips as finely as possible.
Mince the garlic, scraping the side of the knife across the cutting board to turn the mince into a paste.
In a medium bowl, add the spruce tips, garlic, egg yolk (no white!), lemon juice, salt, pepper, and water.
Use a whisk to combine everything. Add the two oils to a measuring cup and begin dripping oil into the bowl, whisking all the while.
As the mixture starts to absorb the oil, start pouring it in in a very thin, steady stream, continuously whisking, until all of the oil is gone and the aioli has emulsified.
The trick to doing this right is by going slow with the oil. The whole process should take several minutes, and your arm should be tired by the end!
Once the artichokes have steamed for 30 minutes, remove from the pot with tongs and let cool.
Once cool enough to handle, cut each artichoke in half, then arrange them on a serving dish with the aioli.
To eat the artichokes, pluck off the petals one at a time. Holding them by the tip, dip the base into the aioli and put into your mouth, still holding the tip. Close your teeth around the petal and pull it out, leaving the tender artichoke meat in your mouth. Discard the spent petal in a bowl for that purpose. The closer you get to the centre as you remove the petals, the more meaty and tender they’ll be.
Once you get to the centre, use a spoon to scrape out all of the hairs below the purple part. This is known as the choke, and can in fact choke you. Discard the hairs, being sure none are left on the artichoke. Now you can eat the entire bottom, which is all tasty artichoke meat.
Serve as a lunch or as a fun appetizer. The garlic-spruce aioli can be used as a dip for pretty much anything, or as a spread for sandwiches, dolloped into soup, or drizzled over potatoes. Enjoy!