Lily and I love artichokes. I just love that I can eat thistles. I have also loved them since I was a child. The first time I ever found one in a restaurant was in The Ore House in Durango, Colorado, and I was pretty sure that made it the best restaurant in the world. Lily, likewise, has cultivated the opinion that artichokes on a restaurant menu are a harbinger of great things. Thus her love for the soufflé restaurant in Dallas, called Rise n⁰1. They have many tasty things, but it doesn’t matter in the least, because they have artichokes (and they hide small brass frogs around the restaurant for the younger patrons to find).
So if I can work artichokes into a meal I get special points at home, too. These croquettes are just a few little bites of lemony heaven. They would work equally well as a small appetizer or a side dish. They are delicious without a sauce, but I had a yearning for something extra so I asked my personal chef (as in the only chef I personally know who will actually answer the phone when she sees my name on the caller ID) and she suggested I just whip up a lemon aioli. So I did. Aioli is just a homemade mayonnaise flavored with various spices and goodies. I merely added a little lemon, lemon zest and garlic. It was the perfect “little something.” Aioli is also wonderful for sandwiches and for crudite. Try it. I know perfectly reasonable people who have abandoned store bought mayo altogether. I won’t go that far, but homemade aioli is a treat. And, if you haven’t made it before, you will be proud of yourself. It is slightly magical.
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1 can artichoke hearts packed in water, thoroughly drained
½ cup traditional bread crumbs
Zest from half of a lemon
1 to 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated onion
1 teaspoon grated garlic
1-½ cups Panko bread crumbs (for breading the croquettes)
¼ cup olive oil (for the pan)
3 egg yolks
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil (or canola…see note)
First, prepare the artichokes. Drain them thoroughly and even squeeze them gently to get out as much of the water as you are able. Place the artichokes on the chopping block and chop them. Blot the artichokes with paper towels in a final attempt to dry the excess water.
If feta is in block form, chop it. If you have purchased crumbled feta, break up any large chunks.
In a small bowl, lightly stir the egg. In a medium bowl, combine artichokes, feta, garlic, onion, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir to combine and then add the bread crumbs and the egg and stir until all of the ingredients are equally distributed.
Form patties with the artichoke mixture. Work to make sure the patties are well formed so that they don’t crumble when cooked. Make the patties somewhat flat because you will not want to flatten them while they are cooking, lest the feta pop through the panko and stick to the pan.
Once the patties have all been formed, fill a large plate with the panko crumbs. Place the patties on the panko crumbs and coat both sides, pressing the panko lightly into each patty so that it adheres.
Heat a nonstick skillet and then add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add about half of the patties. Ensure that they are spaced away from one another so that they can each brown nicely. When browned on the first side (about 3 to 4 minutes), flip the croquettes and allow them to brown on the second side. Remove them to a wire rack with a paper towel laid on half of it. Let the towel absorb the excess oil for just a moment and then move the croquettes to the wire area. Cook the remaining croquettes. I suggest carefully wiping out the pan and adding a little new oil.
If you are not serving them immediately (which I recommend), you can keep the croquettes momentarily in a very low oven on a wire rack placed on a cookie sheet.
If you choose to use the aioli, crack the eggs and separate the egg yolks. In a bowl, use an electric mixer to whisk the egg yolks until they lighten significantly (you can also use a small capacity food processor or one with a small prep container). They will turn from deep yellow to pale yellow. Using a container with a pour spout, begin adding the oil one drop at a time. Continue whisking continually and let the oil incorporate thoroughly before adding more. Once you have added about ¼ of the oil like this you can begin to add it in a very slow stream. Again, it is very important to allow the oil to fully incorporate as you go or the emulsion will not form and the oil will separate and be, in a word, gross. Once you have added all of the oil, add the zest, the garlic, and the lemon juice. Continue to whisk until it is well blended. Transfer the aioli to a serving bowl. If you prefer, you can use a hand whisk for this process but I’m pretty sure that my arm would fall off before completion, so I have never tried. But, I say, “go for it!”
Another one of my favorite artichoke recipe is Spinach and Artichoke Pie, which is a phyllo wrapped concoction, stuffed with artichokes and feta. If you like these croquettes, you might also want to try that one, as well.
Chef Melissa Phillips and I had a chat after I made this aioli. She mentioned that after much experimentation she has actually come to prefer using canola oil for mayonnaise and aioli. She has experienced a bitterness in aiolis made with extra virgin olive oils and said that the canola version lacks it. She had a very good explanation for this theory, but suffice to say that canola will work great in this application, it is less costly, and it will allow you to save your expensive olive oils for uses where it can really sing to you. My olive oil version worked fine this time, but I will pay more attention next time, and likely just switch to canola for this purpose. Thanks, Melissa!!