I adore artichokes. As a child, my mother would boil a whole artichoke for my dinner on those nights when she was preoccupied with other things or, more likely, fed up with cooking and needed to give me a no-fuss dinner. Hard task given that I was a fussy eater for most of my life.
But I always enjoyed my solitary meal of boiled artichokes which I would ceremoniously sit down to in front of the telly, picking off the leaves one-by-one and sucking off what scant flesh there was on the edge of each leaf. Once I was done making my way through all of the leaves (which usually took this fussy eater quite a while), my mum would then cut through the remains to reveal the heart. Though normally by this stage, I would have lost interest and demanded toast.
As I grew older, I came to realise that the heart was the prize part of the vegetable, and that the artichoke leaves tasted better when dipped in a vinaigrette.
And then suddenly the years flew by and I was only reminded recently of eating artichokes this way when I was invited to dinner at my neighbours place. As a shared starter, they served a boiled whole artichoke on a small platter in the middle of the table where each person could help themselves to a few leaves at a time, dipped into a homemade vinaigrette. I was instantly transported to my childhood of exactly the same meal and marvelled that the solitary dinner of my youth could be a shared experience as an adult. I wasn’t sure how one was to eat an artichoke in the company of others but, of course, there is no other way.
In Luke Nguyen’s new book, Indochine, he explores the French influences on Vietnamese cuisine. One particular recipe in the book which struck me was the Artichokes with Garlic Mayonnaise. The artichoke didn’t strike me as a common vegetable in Vietnamese cooking, despite the fact that I have memories of eating it as a child. Whilst it may not be common, the Vietnamese do certainly cook with artichokes and there are some dishes where my mum would use artichokes in place of bamboo. I’m not sure if my mum discovered the artichoke in Australia or if she had previously encountered it in Vietnam. And she certainly never made mayonnaise at home, nor did she ever serve it with artichokes. I think the only time we expected the presence of mayonnaise in Vietnamese cooking was in our banh mi, a Vietnamese baguette filled with a delicious assortment of paté, pork terrine, pickles and herbs.
But I was intrigued by Luke Nguyen’s report of this recipe and was eager to try this pairing of artichokes with garlic mayonnaise. Though, as soon as we sat down to dinner, hubby was already shaking his head at the presence of mayonnaise instead of the traditional vinaigrette. I must admit that I was also skeptical, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well the artichoke tasted with the garlic mayonnaise.
Whether as a solitary meal or a shared starter, preparing artichokes is fairly simple. Depending on size, one artichoke can serve 1-2 persons as a starter. Simply wash the artichokes in cold water and trim off the stalks. Place the artichokes in a large pan of boiling water and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Bring the water to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for about 40 minutes until the outer leaves come away from the stem easily.
Meanwhile, make the garlic mayonnaise (or, as the French call it, äioli). Luke’s mayonnaise recipe starts with 3 garlic cloves which was a bit too over-powering for me, despite having deliberately used small garlic cloves. In future, I would start with maybe just one finely minced garlic clove and add more to taste at the end.
Mince 1 small garlic clove into a bowl, and whisk in 2 egg yolks, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Measure 50 ml of olive oil into a measuring jug, and then 200 ml of vegetable oil so that you have a total of 250 ml (1 cup) of oil. Place the bowl on a damp tea towel so that it does not move while you are whisking. Whisk a few drops of oil at a time into the egg mixture until it is emulsified (that is, well incorporated). Once you have used 50-100 ml of the oil, you can whisk in more oil at a time, making sure that the mixture is emulsified before you add more oil. The end result should be a rather thick and glossy mixture. Taste for seasoning to see if you want to add more salt or lemon juice, though bear in mind that the lemon juice will thin the mixture a little. If you feel the mayonnaise could do with a bit more bite, add some more minced garlic. The mayonnaise keeps well in fridge for a few days, covered with clingfilm.
To serve, place the whole artichokes onto a serving plate and allow people to help themselves to a few of the outer leaves at a time. Make sure you have some bowls for the discarded leaves. Once most of the tough outer leaves have been removed, carefully remove all of the remaining soft leaves, and then scrape away the fuzzy part (the choke) remaining on the stem to reveal the artichoke heart. Cut the heart into small pieces to serve.