The high, dry heat of the grill brings out a vegetable’s natural sweetness. Conventional wisdom holds that the best vegetables for grilling have a high water content, such as peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, and corn. Firm, dense, low-moisture vegetables make less likely candidates. When was the last time you were offered a grilled beet or rutabaga at a barbecue? But every rule has its exception: In this case it’s an edible flower you would think would be leathery and tough when grilled—the artichoke. This recipe came to me from Cagliari, Sardinia, by way of a culinarian and former Thomas J. Watson Foundation fellow, Katherine Deumling. You’ll love the crackling crisp leaves and haunting smoke flavor, not to mention licking the garlic oil off your fingers as you pull the grilled artichoke apart with your hands.
Yield: Serves 4 to 8
1 lemon, cut in half
1½ to 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Using a sharp knife, cut off and discard the top third of each artichoke. Then cut off the stems flush with the bottoms and discard. Using kitchen shears, cut the spiny tips off the artichoke leaves and rub all the cut edges with lemon. Using a grapefruit spoon or melon baller, scrape out the purplish inside leaves and “choke” (fibrous part) of each artichoke, creating a hollow cavity in the center. Squeeze lemon juice into this cavity. Generously brush the artichokes inside and out with some of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
2. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium.
3. When ready to cook, place the artichokes on the grill, stem side up, and grill until the cut side is nicely browned, about 30 minutes. If the artichokes start to burn, move them to a cooler section of the grill, if possible.
4. Invert the artichokes, move them to a cooler part of the grill, and generously brush them inside and out with more olive oil (really slop it in), and place about ½ teaspoon chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon chopped parsley in the cavity of each. Season again with salt and pepper. Move the artichokes back over the heat, cover the grill, and continue grilling them, basting with oil every 10 to 15 minutes, until very tender, 30 to 45 minutes longer, 1 to 1¼ hours in all. If the artichokes start to burn, move them to a cooler part of the grill. When fully cooked, the leaves of the artichoke should pull off easily. Drizzle with any remaining oil and serve at once, providing empty bowls for the leaves and finger bowls and napkins.
Selecting artichokes for grilling may run counter to your intuition: The best ones are older chokes whose leaves have started to spread open. This allows the oil—and the heat—to penetrate deep into the artichokes, giving the leaves their signature crispness. Avoid hard, tightly closed globe artichokes, which may taste great boiled or steamed, but are difficult to grill. The other ingredient you need is patience.
You can’t rush grilled artichokes. It takes long, slow, patient grilling over a moderate fire to achieve the proper crispness. I call for a medium fire here, but you may need to reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the artichokes from burning. Using a three-zone fire will give you a cooler area to move the artichokes to if they start to burn.