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

5 lemons
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.

35 comments:

Joanne Rendell said...

as always, 'manda, yum! i've never been one for artichokes, but you make them look delicious...

Anonymous said...

Oooh, artichokes: I would do ANYTHING FOR ARTICHOKES: they are my most favouritest (do I get the idea across?) vegetable!!! I have even been known to get a bunch of artichokes from my husband - because he knew I'd prefer them to roses!!!! Here in Italy it's still a wee bit too early for artichokes: they will be here in a little while though.... lovely thought!!!
Joan

Wendy said...

Hee hee! GREAT story. Absolutely loved it. :)
I must try to cook an artichoke soon. I love to eat the marinated hearts but whenever I see a whole head I panic. Got to get over it. thanks for the inspiration.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jo, thank you! I might have to try and change your mind on the artichoke situation.

Joan, thanks for the comment! A bouquet of artichokes sounds like a glorious present! They're my favorite too - I shall have to start dropping hints to my husband now!

Wendy, glad you like the story! It's a good one, isn't it? Good luck with the whole artichoke venture! Do let me know if you try one.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic story! I love artichokes.

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed artichokes with lemon and butter for years but this sounds just as good. Can't wait to try it.

Anonymous said...

I love a little culinary revenge. How fantastic!!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Anonymous, thank you! I love artichokes too, and I've been longing for them to be in season so I could tell that story.

Anonymous, I grew up on artichokes with lemon butter, and they were always my absolute favorite! I still make them like that for a cozy treat.

Anonymous, pretty funny, right? One of my favorite food stories ever!

Jan said...

Amanda, what a story! "Cordial" revenge must have been ever so satisfying!

Garrett said...

I love artichokes. Like love them, love them. I think I'll buy some tonight. Rob's not a fan of anchovies though, so I just melt some butter and add some dried tarragon and salt for a simple dipping sauce. YUM!

Garrett said...

By the by, also loved this story. It's these little snippets of life that makes blog reading so much fun!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jan, pretty funny, right? So glad you like!

Garrett, thank you! I love all the stories too. Artichokes have been my all-time favorite since I can remember. I grew up on lemon butter as the dipping sauce. Frankly I'd eat my houseplants if they were dipped in lemon butter - never mind something as delicious as artichokes! But the tarragon is SUCH a good touch. Brings in a whole bearnaise quality. I must try that next time.

Mercedes said...

Ah, have you read Nemirovsky's "Suite Francaise"? Your wonderful story brought it to mind immediately, vive la resistance indeed!
I love that artichokes have a second short season in the fall, we so associate them with spring, and having them again is like a wonderful parting gift.

Anh said...

OH yum! I love artichoke and have been looking around for recipes! Yours is always very delicious!!!

Tisha said...

Oh,no. My keyboard is ruined because I've just drooled all over it. Artichokes and olive oil and anchovies, could you have possibly dreamed up a better combination?

Figs Olives Wine said...

Mercedes, their nuttiness and texture somehow work for spring and autumn, don't they! I love that. I've never read any Nemirovsky, but I'll have to get my hands on the story you mention. Thanks for the tip!

Anh, thank you! Artichokes are my absolute favorite too, so I hope you like!

Tisha, thank you! The combination is quite traditional over there actually. Raw baby artichoke hearts are slivered and bathed in minced anchovies and olive oil. It's served as a salad - very delicious indeed!

tribecachef said...

What a perfect trio: artichokes, anchovies, and lemon. Pure Provence.

Joanna said...

Your story reminds me of the short novel Le Silence de la Mer, by Vercors, which was published in secret during the French occupation. A cultured "good" German officer is billeted on an old man and his niece, and their response is silence. It's an exploration of the nature of resistance, metaphorical and actual. Short, readable, and available in English as well as French. I think there may be a film of it, too.

We're having artichokes for dinner. I think your lovely sauce would work even on plain boiled artichokes, which is what we're having, as I don't have time for the prep today - so I'll try it

Joanna

Figs Olives Wine said...

Tribecachef, thank you! It's a wonderful flavor combination isn't it? Very old too. So glad you like.

Joanna, thanks so much! It sounds like the Vercors story is right up my alley - I shall have a look for it at the book store today. I don't mention it in the post, but all involved in this story are aristocracy. Clearly the officer had been raised to eat whatever was served, but it seems like the Vercors has even more in common with my friend's tale than you'd expect. How marvelous! Thanks for the tip.
And I think the sauce will go every bit as well if you steam the artichokes. Just use fresh olive oil in the sauce - no need for the cooking oil. I was raised on steamed artichokes with lemon butter, and I usually steam ours unless it's a special occasion. Hope you enjoy!

Truffle said...

What a fabulous idea! I can almost taste them. The presentation is just gorgeous. I think I'm going to have to steal this one the next time I have people over ;)

Gloria said...

Amanda, you don't believe that I make today a artichokes'recipes, but I swear I don't see your page, only today but is so different recipe. But I like a lot yours!!! I love artichokes too. I f you have time go to see to my page of my little blog. Many days I have the idea to make a artichokes recipe but only last night I can translate it.
Yours pictures so nice, how ever. Gloria

Anonymous said...

Mercedes is right - when I read the story I had like a déjà-vu (lu??) feeling - and it was like the situation in Suite Française - what a wonderful book. EVERYBODY should read it (and I'm sure it's been translated into English!)
Joan

Figs Olives Wine said...

Truffle, thank you! I hope you will make the recipe next time you have guests - it's a real crowd pleaser. Let me know if you do.

Gloria, that's so funny! I guess great minds think alike. I will be sure to pop over to your site and check out your artichokes. They're my favorite, so I'm always excited to find a new way of preparing them.

Joan, that's so great - I can't wait to read it! I've gotten 2 literary recommendations on this post, and I'm very excited to check them both out!

countrygirlcityliving said...

again, beautiful photos and an inspiring story. are you by any chance the girl who used to work for the chef at craft? i know, totally random...but you look really familiar! especially if you spend any time at the USQ farmers market we have surely run into one another!
at any rate, happy cooking :)

Cynthia said...

The only time I get to eat fresh artichokes is when I travel abroad. The bottled stuff here is expensive and sell in very large quantities.

I can imagine how good they taste especially with your lemon anchovy sauce. Yum!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Countrygirlcityliving, thank you! I didn't work at Craft, though I like eating there! And actually a close friend worked there for a long time. But he doesn't look like me ; )
Union Sq. is certainly one of the markets I use - maybe I look familiar from there? So glad you like the post.

Cynthia, thank you my friend! I'm so pleased you like artichokes too, and I hope you have the chance to get your hands on some fresh ones soon!

winedeb said...

Amanda, thank you for the story! I am like Wendy and shy away from fresh artichokes. I always think, oh, so much work. (And also, they are not available down here very often.) I need to get a grip!

Jann said...

Loved this post and the dish~they are quite tasty, aren't they!Beautiful photographs~

Figs Olives Wine said...

Winedeb, I completely understand why you guys feel that way! Like anything, with a few practice sessions, the work becomes much faster and easier - and the flavor is so heavenly. But there is that psychological hurdle - I'm with you there!

Jann, thanks so much! I'm so glad you like the recipe - I adore artichokes too!

Jen said...

I love artichokes, and this looks simply wonderful. I hate dealing with the choke, though.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jen, thanks so much! I'm so glad you like. The choke can get messy, I totally agree. But the great thing about these little guys is that the choke's often barely formed yet. Not that fuzzy and very small - much easier!

tribecachef said...

My favorite!

Grow Lamps said...

I just love this artichoke. What a fabulous and fantastic post you have to written here. Thanks for sharing.

Jenn @leftoverqueen said...

Wow, these look soo sooo good!

Mary said...

Your recipe is wonderful but your story is even better. This is my first visit to your blog and I've just finished browsing through some of the posts that appear below. I'm so glad I did that. You've created a great spot for your readers to visit and I enjoyed the time I spent here. I'll definitely be back. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

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