Artichokes and Cheesy Grits

Artichoke and cheesy grits

One of the things I loved about living in San Jose was that the ocean was a short twenty minute drive over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Once over the mountains you felt a world away from tech capital of the world, as the hot stale air of the valley gave way to a cool ocean breeze. Heading north or south on Highway 1 from Santa Cruz brought with it endless miles of beautiful coastline lined with seaside farms.

Nearly 100% of artichokes found in the US come from this area and the prickly shrub , a member of the thistle family, can be seen all the way down to Monterey. Whenever I headed down that way, I’d always stop by a road-side stand and pick up a giant bag of artichokes for a few bucks. Back then, I thought of artichokes as a second-rate vegetable that was cheap and fun to eat. Imagine my surprise when I moved out to New York and saw artichokes selling for several bucks a piece!

Baby Artichokes

Since there’s not much to eat on an artichoke, I could never bring myself to shell out the cash for them here in New York, so it’s been over 5 years since I’ve had one. That dry-spell came to an end when I found twelve-packs of baby artichokes at WholeFoods for $2! Delighted, I picked up a couple packs of the gorgeous green buds.

With New York defrosting, spring is almost in the air; as I stared into my uncharacteristically barren fridge, I decided it was time for something vegetarian. This is my take on the Southern classic “shrimp and grits”, sans the crustaceans. It’s not that artichokes in any way resemble shrimp, but something about garlicky artichokes on a bed of creamy grits just sounded right.

Artichoke and cheesy grits

The tender sauteed baby artichokes are studded with bits of browned garlic and are buttery and lightly caramelized around the edges. A splash of lemon added at the end gives them just enough tang to contrast the creamy bed of grits that they rest on. The grits aren’t merely a side in this dish though, so I loaded them up with cheese to give them a healthy dose of umami. There’s no bacon or shrimp to be found in this dish, but with the amount of flavor it packs, the meat won’t be missed.

Artichokes and Cheesy Grits

serves 3-4

for the sauteed artichokes
12 baby artichokes
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves of garlic chopped
salt and pepper
juice from 1/2 lemon
pimentón (smoked paprika)
zest from 1 lemon

for the grits
2 cups water
1 cup milk
1 cup grits
60 grams grated cheese (I used Gruyere and Pecorino Romano)
1/3 cup half and half or cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt (halve if using regular salt)
black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare the baby artichokes by removing all the tough outer leaves. You want to get down to the leaves that are mostly yellowish-green. Trim the stem and any dark green bits from the base of the artichoke, trim the top 1/3 of the artichoke leaves off and discard, then quarter the artichoke lengthwise. Put the artichokes in cold water with a splash of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. When the water comes to a boil, add the artichokes and boil for 2 minutes. Drain them and put them on paper towels while you prepare the grits.

Bring the water and milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Sprinkle the grits on the boiling liquid and turn down the heat to medium low. Stir regularly with a silicon spatula to keep the grits from burning to the bottom of the pan. When they are cooked, the mixture should get very thick. You can test a bite to check; the bits of corn should still be firm, but not crunchy. Add the cheese and half and half and stir together. Taste it, then add salt to taste (I added about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, but it depends on how salty your cheese is).

Meanwhile, add the butter and olive oil to a saute pan over medium high heat, then add garlic and fry until fragrant but not browned. Add the artichokes then toss to coat with oil. Fry until the garlic is golden brown and the artichokes have browned a little around the edges, then salt and pepper to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle with lemon juice, tossing to coat evenly.

Plate by spreading a layer of grits down, then top with the garlic artichokes. Dust some pimentón on top, then sprinkle with lemon zest and chives.

  • Sally

    I love the clean feel of this recipe, and the grits add a lot to make a satisfying meal. (I sometimes embellish the artichokes with bacon, but that’s another story for another day.) I’ve noticed these packets in Whole Foods too, so now I’m inspired to buy them.The snow’s still on the ground in Boston, but I expect artichokes could cheer me up while it melts.

  • Stephanie Russell

    Baby artichokes are the cutest little things. I haven’t seen them that cheap at Whole Foods here, maybe I need to take a peek this week. I love the simplicity of this meal, though. The artichokes really shine here — they are after all, the star of the show! :-)

  • tami

    Thank you, thank you for a ______ & grits recipe that’s not laden with bacon or sausage. I love cooking grits dishes but they’re usually not so friendly for vegetarians. This looks incredible – I’m sure the texture contrast is awesome.

  • sweet road

    This looks great, I was told to try making my own grits recently, so I’ll just have to use this post as inspiration!

  • Anne Maxfield

    Sounds great, I hope my Whole Foods has the baby artichokes. I use them for a meatball recipe and they’re sometimes hard to find.

  • Christine

    This makes me miss both northern CA and the South!

  • Christine

    I would go with butter instead of half and half in those grits.

  • sally

    I would have never thought of combining cheesy grits and artichokes–but this dish looks fantastic!

  • Genie

    Looks great. That’s a whole lot of ‘chokes in that dish. They are very expensive here in New Zealand too and with so little food on each globe, I’ve yet to be tempted to buy them for cooking. How do baby artichokes takes in comparison to grown up sized ones?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      They’re smaller so you can actually eat some of the leaves towards the
      middle. Flavor wise they’re a little less bitter.

  • Thekitchenwitchblog

    Call my Southern mama, she would love this. Actually I don’t have a southern mama, but if I did she would love it. If I get a killer deal on artichokes I am making this! Love me some grits!

  • Tastemonials

    I don’t like grits, but if you call it polenta, this looks great!

  • gritslover

    This looks yummy. Last year, I grew an heirloom green dent corn (yes, cornmeal/grits comes in different colors) which I will grind into grits to make this dish. Thanks for the recipe.

  • erin

    now i’m gonna be late for work b/c i MUST HAVE SOME GRITS!

  • Nipponnin

    I love artichokes. I grow it in my back yard and one plant produce 5-6 flowers. I will try this recipe when it’s ready to harvest in late June to Aug. here. The dish looks really good!

    I just let you to know that I used your chocolate pudding recipe in my post. Thanks.

  • Kimberley

    I haven’t seen those 12-packs of baby artichokes! Maybe it’s a consolation prize for your slim produce options out there. :)

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  • Peggy Labor

    You make me want to run to Whole Food right now! Although I think we may have a different selection being in different states… but this dish is definitely calling my name!

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  • Betsy

    I did not know that about where artichokes are grown. No wonder we can usually get them pretty cheap here in San Diego. Short travel time. This recipe sounds great and I love your description on foodgawker “slightly healthier than shrimp and grits” Hey, any little bit helps right? We’re hosting an online seasonal potluck and March is artichoke month. If you’d like to link up your recipe, we’d love to have you

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