Grilled Artichokes with Spanish Sunset Aioli
As a California native, there are certain foods that I grew up eating that, as an adult, I now recognize are probably not part of most people's list of childhood comfort foods. Avocados are one. I have been known to transform into a Gollum-like creature when I cut open a perfectly green, perfectly soft-yet-firm avocado; I want to hide it from everyone else and whisper sweet nothings to it... as I inhale it with little more than a sprinkle of my Chile-Lime Citrus Salt and a spoon.
Artichokes are on another level altogether, however. I mean, who was the first human to look at this tough, weird-looking green flower with a hairy center and sharp spikes on its petals and say, "Yeah. I think I want to eat that"? While I don't know the answer to that question, I do know that I absolutely love artichokes. I love that eating them is this hands-on communal experience, with everyone working their way from the outer leaves toward the prize that is the buttery beautiful heart. I also love that they are a harbinger of Spring, with their peak season being between March and May, when we are all ready for longer days, warmer weather, and gatherings with friends and family.
While there are many ways to prepare artichokes, I definitely prefer recipes like this one that keep things simple and allow you to really appreciate the flavor of the artichoke itself. Plus, I love any recipe where part of the prep can be done in advance, making this an excellent appetizer for a party. While you can make whatever sort of dipping sauce you'd like, I really love the way the flavors of my Spanish Sunset Spice Blend play with the earthy flavors of the artichoke itself.
If you've never eaten an artichoke before, you take a leaf, dip it in your aioli, and use your teeth to scrape off the meaty flesh from the bottom half of the leaf. Discard the rest of the leaf and move on to the next one. You'll eventually get to the center, or heart, of the artichoke, which is eaten whole. Just be sure all the hairy fibers have been fully removed before eating the heart. There is a reason it's called the "choke."
Finally, before I get to the recipe, a note on shopping for artichokes... This recipe works best with the big Globe artichokes (as opposed to the smaller ones that you see in a lot of Italian - especially Roman - recipes). Look for nice, round artichokes with wide stems and petals that are a little bit open. Stay away from artichokes with floppy stems or wrinkled skin. These are past their prime.
Grilled Artichoke with Spanish Sunset Aioli
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Spanish Sunset Spice Blend, divided
1 lemon, scrubbed and halved
4 garlic cloves
2 large artichokes
Extra virgin olive oil
Make the Spanish Sunset Aioli: Mix together the mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon Spanish Sunset Spice Blend, and about a teaspoon of lemon juice from your halved lemon. Stir to combine and then refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the artichokes: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Squeeze the lemons into the water and drop in the halves. Add the garlic and the artichokes. Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until you can pierce the artichoke stems easily with a knife and/or the outermost leaves can be pulled off easily. This will probably take around 30 minutes - artichokes are tough. Drain and transfer artichokes to a cutting board to cool. (Note: You can parboil the artichokes up to 3 days in advance. Allow them to cool completely then store in the refrigerator in an airtight container or bag.)
Preheat a grill or grill pan to high heat and oil the grates.
Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise, and use a spoon to scoop out and discard the chokes (the hairy center). Drizzle the artichoke halves generously with olive oil and sprinkle all over with the remaining teaspoon of Spanish Sunset Spice Blend.
Transfer the artichokes to the grill cut side up and cook, uncovered, until lightly charred on the rounded side (about 5 minutes). Flip the artichokes over and continue to cook until lightly charred on the cut side as well (4-6 minutes more). Transfer the artichokes to a platter, drizzle with a little more olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt (if desired). Serve with Spanish Sunset Aioli for dipping.