Artichokes are one of those things that every time I cook them, someone tells me they have never seen whole artichokes cooked, and that they had no idea how to eat them. I blame my French grandmother for my love of whole artichokes. I actually blame her for a lot of my eating and cooking habits.
A lot of people have said “oh you should write a post about how hard it is to be paleo and be French.” Actually, it’s just like anything else paleo: it’s what you make it. We spent two weeks in France last summer and I’m the first to admit, staying paleo wasn’t on my radar. It wasn’t even in the very back of my mind. The South of France in the summer? Think wine, cheese, wine, olives, wine, bread, wine, seafood and meats. Also, I think there was wine. I knew it was vacation, I knew it wasn’t forever and I knew some of these foods and wines I would never get to taste again, so I enjoyed it. I ate and I drank and I had a blast. A lot of misconceptions of French cooking is that it’s all breads and cheeses and pastries, but that’s actually so painfully far from the truth that it’s laughable.
The foundation of French cooking really is fresh, quality ingredients. I can’t think of a better example of this than when my family was in France in 2010 and my uncle decided he wanted to grill whole chickens on the outdoor grill that night for dinner. As most French do every day, my grandmother walked up to the local (and only) butcher in our town and asked for two whole chickens. The butcher argued with her that it wasn’t the right time of the year for that kind of chicken and that he had much better meat to sell her. After a lengthy exchange, my grandmother was on her way home with two whole chickens for grilling that night. My uncle rubbed the chickens and prepared them exactly how he had planned, put them on the grill to cook. All 20 of us sat down for dinner, anxiously awaiting the much talked about grilled chicken. After about 20 minutes of us sitting around the table waiting for my uncle to come out with our dinner, another one of my uncles went into the kitchen to offer some help. I’m pretty sure I heard a chainsaw start up at this point. Long story short: the chicken was inedible. Dry wouldn’t even begin to explain this chicken.
My aunt and I gave it a shot because we had heard about how good this chicken would be all day, but in the end it was a lost cause. I think we ended up eating pork chops instead.
My point is, the French way of cooking is very much in line with paleo in many ways. French people only eat what is in season. Actually, they usually only eat what is available that day. Many French people still go to their local market every day for food for dinner that night. What a family in Cannes is eating will likely be very different from what a family in Dijon or Cherbourg is eating that same night, because the French also eat locally. They are also very, very careful about waste (at least my grandmother always is). When you are done with a whole chicken, you use the bones to make stock. When French bread has gone bad and it’s hard, put it in soup (hello, French onion soup anyone?) Yes, the French eat bread. Yes, they eat cheese. Yes, they love wine. But just like everything else, it is done in moderation. Their meals don’t consist of just bread and cheese, and yours shouldn’t either.
So on to the artichokes. These are an appetizer that my grandmother has made at family parties for as long as I can remember. It never even struck me as odd when I started making them when I lived with roommates until they gave me the strangest looks when I would present them on the table. Let me assure you, they are delicious (I think TJ once compared my sister, roommate and I eating artichokes to a pack of wild dogs) and cooking them is relatively simple.
Artichokes. How many is up to you. I usually do 1 per person, but newbies are usually a little more put off and warm up to them over time.
3-4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 TSP olive oil. This is complete guess since I have never seen my grandmother measure out how much oil she uses, she just drizzles it into the bowl while whisking until it is to her desired consistency.
First, you want to take scissors and trim the little thorns off of the tip of each leaf. This is mostly for aesthetic reasons, but my grandmother always did it and I am not questioning her. Then you want to cut about 3/4 inch off of the top of the artichoke and trim the stem at the bottom. I usually only leave about 1/2 inch of the stem at the bottom. Slice your garlic cloves in half and stuff them in between some of the leaves of each artichoke. Most of them will fall out when boiling but, again, this is how my grandmother does it so it’s how I will continue to do it.
Place your artichokes into a pot and cover with slightly salted water. Boil them for 25-45 minutes, depending on size. You will know they are done because the leaves will easily peel right off.
For the Dijon dip:
Place your mustard into a bowl and drizzle in the oil. Top with a dash of salt and pepper (I usually use more pepper here) and whisk the mixture until it is at a consistency that you prefer. I like mine to be a bit more “whipped” and light, but my mom likes hers a little heavier.
The dip may or may not make this entire dish. It is so good, and if you have a bunch leftover it is great as a quick salad dressing as well – just toss in a little red wine vinegar!
To eat the artichokes: just peel the leaves off of the stem, dip the white, fleshy end (the part closes to the middle) into your dipping sauce, and use your teeth to remove the “flesh.” You will be left with a leaf, having eaten only the “meat.” Discard the remaining leaf. When almost all of your leaves are gone, scrape out and discard the inedible fuzzy part (called the “choke”) covering the artichoke heart. The remaining bottom of the artichoke is the heart. Cut into pieces and dip into sauce to eat. Everyone will fight over who gets to eat the heart. I know we always do!
Yup, I ate these today.