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The Art of the Artichokes

Mysterious Voyage of Discovery

Since I was a child, the artichoke has been a mysterious voyage of flavor and discovery.  We ate them often, each one getting a whole one on our plate, with our own little pot of melted butter alongside.  Enjoying it leaf by meaty leaf was like an excavation to find the heart, where you had to dig a little, scrape a little, brush a little to get the plump reward.

Antithesis

When I moved to France I discovered a myriad of ways to prepare the artichoke, most of them involving discarding the fleshy leaves I loved so much.  Of course I was horrified – who isn’t, when confronted with something antithetical to one’s fundamental belief system (mine = artichoke leaves as one of the culinary glories of life).  But, I have come around, for I love the the fun of getting to the heart of the artichoke before cooking it, then the possibilities of what to do with this marvelous ingredient once it has been revealed.

Brittany the Heart of Artichoke Production

Brittany is the artichoke region of France, and a hike along the coastal “sentier des douaniers” or “customs officers trail” takes one through artichoke fields filled with the silvery-leafed plants and their bulbs which, if left unharvested turn into blazing purple flowers.  The artichoke has a natural affinity for ingredients from Brittany, and I like to serve the braised heart with poached oysters, fold it into a dish with ham and vegetables à la Artichokes Braised in Apple Cider in PLAT DU JOUR (p.176), or even serve it steamed with a lovely mound of seasoned shrimp set in its hollow.

As for the leaves,  I remain faithful.  I steam them, make a quick mayonnaise and serve the duo as an appetizer.  It always delights!

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