Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Artichokes Poached in Olive Oil with Lemon Anchovy Sauce - a Recipe
I'm tinkering. My kitchen is packed with quinces, baby leeks, and the last of the plums. In the meantime, here's a treat I've been setting out with drinks at the end of the day since the baby artichokes arrived, complete with my favorite tale of culinary revenge.
There is a wonderful story my friend and former boss tells about her exceedingly genteel Provençal mother-in-law and World War II. That side of her family lives still in a large country mas or farmhouse near Arles, and during the war, their home was occupied by the Nazis. This French family and a number of German officers lived side by side for over a year in strained civility. And it fell to my friend’s mother-in-law, then a very young bride, to cook meals for the enemy.
Once the war was over, one of the officers was ordered to stay behind and repair any damage to the family’s home, and one night, our heroine served up a platter of large globe artichokes. It soon became clear that the houseguest had never eaten an artichoke before. He picked up his knife and fork and managed to spear a few of the tough outer leaves – thorns and all – before bringing them to his lips and chewing for what must have been a very long and painful time.
Of course, my friend’s mother-in-law maintains to this day that not one member of the family corrected him, because it would have been unthinkably rude to embarrass a guest. But when we learn that they sat in cordial silence and watched the officer eat every leaf in this manner and then the choke, it may occur to some of us that the family – and perhaps in particular the young girl who’d prepared the man’s meals those many months – may have taken some modicum of satisfaction from such a discrete yet publicly drawn out revenge.
History does not relate how the artichokes had been prepared that night over 60 years ago, but this is a recipe from Provence that’s almost as old as time itself. Whether you use the large globe variety, or the small, nutty violets or poivrades of the region, this method brings out the delicate flavor of artichokes better than any other I’ve found. I’ve used some of the cooking oil to make a warm dipping sauce – not quite as traditional, but deliciously saline and tangy when scooped up in the little hollows of the artichoke halves.
If you use small artichokes (these lovelies came from Norwich Meadows Farm), cut your largest one in half before you begin. If the choke has formed, you’ll need to halve and clean the artichokes before you cook them. Otherwise you can just trim the outer leaves and keep them whole – in which case they’ll bloom like the little flowers they are as they cook in the hot olive oil. Large globe artichokes need to cook for much longer. You may quarter them and then clean them as I describe for the smaller specimens, but, if you’re serving them at the table rather than as hors’deuvres, you can leave them whole and skip the cleaning altogether. Vive la Résistance!
Serves 4 as an appetizer
Special equipment: a splatter screen
10 small artichokes or 4 globe artichokes
extra virgin olive oil
6 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
good sea salt
Fill a small bowl halfway with cold water and squeeze in the juice of 1 of the lemons. Cut 2 more lemons in half and keep next to your work surface.
Clean an artichoke by first trimming the stem and cutting off the top 1 – 3 inches of leaves, just until you’ve removed the tough, fibrous portion. Rub the cut surfaces with lemon juice. Now pull off the tough base leaves and rub the base of the artichoke with lemon juice. Now cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and rub the newly exposed portion with lemon juice. Use a small spoon to scoop out the choke, and rub the area with lemon juice. Place the artichoke halves in the acidulated water to prevent browning, and continue with the rest of the artichokes (see photo below).
When your artichokes are clean, arrange them in a pot, cut sides facing up. Pour in olive oil until it comes halfway up the artichokes, and then pour in water to just cover them completely. Place the pot over high heat, cover with the splatter screen, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil small artichokes for 15 – 25 minutes and larger ones for up to 45 minutes until all the splattering has stopped and the water has evaporated. The outer leaves of the artichokes should be lightly golden.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the artichokes to paper towels to drain. Measure 6 tablespoons of the cooking oil into a small saucepan and add the chopped anchovies. Sizzle over medium heat until the anchovies have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the juice of a lemon.
When ready to serve, arrange the artichokes on a serving board or platter, shower with the juice of the remaining lemon, and sprinkle with sea salt. Decant the warm anchovy and lemon mixture into a small bowl, and serve immediately.