Recently, I’ve fallen for artichokes. I enjoy the appeal of their unyielding exteriors and thorn-tipped leaves, the knowledge that they need to be plucked and peeled and sliced, eviscerated of their fluffy chokes, before any eating can commence.
This time of year, they start piling up in greengrocers, the globe artichokes big as softballs. For this recipe, though, I opted to use baby purple artichokes, drawn in by their hue and their bite-sized scale. Inspired by the Roman-Jewish dish carciofi alla giudia, in which artichokes are deep-fried, I did the same (after simmering them in lemon-infused water first), watching them bloom into golden flowers in the hot oil. Then, to counteract the salt and crunch, I served them on cool and creamy aioli.
This isn’t just artichoke season, however. The arrival of wild garlic every year is deserving of its own holiday, and I was pleased to see my local patch looking thicker and greener than ever when I checked on it this year. I decided a wild garlic pesto – a staple of my spring cooking – would be the perfect garnish. (This recipe makes more than you may need; use the excess however you’d like – mixed through pasta or in a potato salad, added to savoury muffin batter or used in a compound butter.)
Artichoke is famously difficult to pair with wine, but a bone-dry, high-acid, unoaked white is a good bet, and Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent choice. Lest you feel sceptical of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I must tell you that this Still Life wine is a delight – green, vibrant, absurdly redolent of tropical fruits and gooseberries with a mineral edge, it’s Marlborough at its best. Enjoy it with these artichokes and think of green and growing things – in a matter of weeks, the cold will be gone, the leaves unfurled, and spring all around us.
Fried Artichokes with Wild Garlic Pesto
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a starter
For the artichokes:
10 small artichokes
Flaky sea salt, to taste
500ml vegetable oil
2 tablespoons brine-packed capers, drained and patted dry
For the wild garlic pesto:
30g wild garlic
30g toasted pine nuts
30g freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
100ml olive oil, plus additional, if needed
½ teaspoon caster sugar
Flaky sea salt, to taste
Ricotta or aioli, optional
20g toasted pine nuts
1. Fill a large bowl with water and add the juice of 1 lemon, which will help stop the artichokes from browning.
2. To prepare your artichoke, cut the stem down to 1 inch. Remove the tough outer leaves until you reach the more tender interior leaves; the artichoke will look like a tightly closed rosebud. Trim roughly 1 inch from the top of the artichoke. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the hard, woody bits at the base of the artichoke, where the former leaves were, and peel away the tough outer layer of the stem.
3. Next, remove the choke. Carefully slice the prepared artichoke in half and locate the choke in the centre, below the leaves – it will look white and fuzzy, like dandelion fluff. Using a small spoon, scoop out and discard the choke. Place the prepared artichoke halves in the bowl of lemon water and repeat with the rest of the artichokes.
4. Add the artichoke halves to a large sauté pan and just cover with water; add the zest and juice of the second lemon and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer; cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until the artichokes are knife-tender all over. Drain the artichokes and place on a layer of paper towels or dish towels; dry thoroughly, gently but firmly pressing down to remove any excess water from the leaves.
5. While the artichokes cook, prepare the pesto. In a food processor, add all of the ingredients and blend on high until uniform, pausing to scrape down the sides if needed. Add additional olive oil if the pesto is looking a little too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
6. In a Dutch oven or other large pot, add the vegetable oil; it should just be deep enough to submerge the artichokes (add additional oil if necessary). Place over high heat and heat to 180°C.
7. Line a baking tray or large plate with paper towels and place a cooling rack over it. Once the oil is hot, carefully add one artichoke half (take care, as it may spit slightly); it should start sizzling rapidly. Add several more, being careful not to crowd the pot. Fry for 2-3 minutes, gently flipping the artichokes, until golden-brown and crisp; their leaves will unfurl in the oil like a blooming flower. Transfer to the prepared cooling rack and season to taste with flaky sea salt. Repeat with the remaining batches.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our Natural Wine Killers wine subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings plus expert tasting notes for three amazing wines like this one every month.