Sitting on my motorcycle in the afternoon heat I started thinking about dinner. Mondays are a sacred day in our house because Motor Supply is closed and I can partially shut down. The temp was about 120 under my helmet and the last thing I wanted was a heavy heavy meal. EarthFare here I come.
Walking in I spied some beautiful artichokes and a glimmer of a smile crossed my lips. Memories of artichoke fields in Burgundy shot through my mind and the theme of dinner was set. Dinner would be French-inspired and served cold.
Here is a quick run down. Most importantly, don't confuse fresh artichokes with those metallic bastardized ones in the can. They are hardly fit for human consumption. (I much prefer oil-marinated artichokes.) The history of the artichoke dates back to the Greeks. They were said to have been made by Zeus when he cast his lover out of Olympia back to earth in the form of a flower. Yes, I said "flower," and a rather large and prickly one at that. If allowed to open an arthichoke would measure about 7 inches across.
Looks like an unopened flower, huh?
Chokes, as I like to call them, are easy to prepare. First, cut off the top about an inch and a half down with a very sharp knife. Scrape away at the stems with a vegetable peeler.
Next, use a melon baller to remove the innards. This process is a little tricky to get started, just use a little more force then you might think you need. Make sure that you scrape the inside clean and remove all the thread-like strands.
Now, cut off the little barbed ends on the tips of the leaves. Sharp kitchen shears work well for this task.
Place the prepared artichokes in a large pot of cold water with salt (a few tablespoons), peppercorns (about a tablespoon), halved lemons (a few), garlic (a handful of cloves), and parsley stems (they contain plenty of flavor and you can save the leaves for something else).
Use something to hold the chokes down, as they will want to float to the surface. I used some pot lids but a few small sturdy plates work just as well. Over medium heat bring the pot to a slow boil and cook about 35 minutes. To test, pierce the base of the chokes with a paring knife. The heart of the choke should be tender. Remove the chokes from the pot and cool.
Serve with melted butter into which you have squeezed half a lemon.
Peel a leaf off, dip it in the butter and scrape the meat off of the base with your teeth. Repeat. As you get closer to the center of the arthichoke, the leaves will contain increasingly more meat. Once you have stripped the leaves to the heart the real joy begins.
Dinner the other night included the artichokes with lemon butter, sourdough bread, a small slice of pate from the Gourmet Shop, a sliced tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, and halved baby radishes with some softened pasture butter. My wife drank way too much wine, which was a 2000 Sebastopol Russian River Reserve Chardonnay.