Artichoke, by any other name


(If you are reading this post on a RSS reader, you might want to click through to Chez Pim for the slideshow.)

Thorny artichokes, l’artichauts épineux, épines, carciofi, these artichokes go by quite a few names around the Mediterranean. I was duly impressed the first time I saw them at the big market in San Remo a couple years ago. I’d never seen artichokes with such intimidating thorns before. They are vindictive little buggers too –and this I speak from first hand experience trimming them. I still go ouch every time I pick one up. You know, a little pre-emptive cry for the inevitable future.

According to many chefs and serious foodies I know –and the French Wikipedia even agrees– these thorny artichokes are perhaps the tastiest of all the artichoke varieties. Hence the thorns as a defensive measure, perhaps? In France they are found around Nice and the surrounding areas, whereas in Italy they appear to be everywhere –though the size (hence frightfulness) of the thorns varies some. Beside the deadly thorns, these artichokes are also marked by the gorgeous violet/lavender streaks and the shape that is more elongate and conical than the usual round Globe artichokes common in the US.

I’m not going to give you a primer on trimming an artichoke. Frankly I avoid that kitchen chore whenever I can. But my friend Sam at Becks and Posh did a lovely illustrated post on this very topic a while ago so go and check her out.

How do you cook these artichokes (or any artichoke) you wonder? When we were on our cooking vacation –is there a different kind?- in Mougins a while back, our friend Mikael did his take on the classic Provençale dish of Mediterraean Seabass and Artichokes for us. I’ve worked out a recipe here for you to try.

Seabass and poached artichokes in mandarin-olive oil emulsion
For 4

4 filets of Seabass, 3.5-4oz per piece, preferably with skin on and at close to room temperature as you could manage
6-8 artichokes, trimmed and quartered
Olive oil for cooking the fish
Salt and pepper to taste

For poaching the artichokes
3 cups of water
½ tablespoon of salt
Juice from half a lemon

For the sauce
Juice from 1-2 Mandarins or one large orange
6 tablespoons very good extra-virgin olive oil*
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a small sauce pan add the water, salt and lemon juice and bring the liquid to a boil. Then add the trimmed and quartered artichokes. Poach for 5-7 minutes over a low flame. Start checking the doneness of the artichokes at about 5 minutes: the tip of a knife should go into the aritchoke without any resistance once it is done. Turn off the heat and strain the artichokes, set aside for plating later.
2. Heat a sauté pan -a non-stick pan will be easier to work with- until medium hot, add about 3 tablespoon of olive oil to coat the pan well. Sprinkel a little salt on both sides of the filets, arrange them on the pan skin side down, and let cook undisturbed for 2 minutes or until the skin side is golden brown.
3. Turn the filets over and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Test the doneness by using a cake taster. The metal stick should go in and out with no resistance when the fish is done. If you don’t have a cake taster, you can straighten out a matal paper clip and use it instead.
4. While the fish is cooking you can make the quick sauce. Begin with 3 tablespoons of the Mandarin juice and a pinch of salt, using a whip –or a fork if you’re good- slowly mix into it the six tablespoons of olive oil to create an emulsion. Add more Mandarin juice if the sauce is not sharp enough, or even a squeeze of lemon. Finish with a few turns of black pepper.
5. When the fish is done, take the filets out of the pan and place each on a plate to serve.
6. Arrange a few pieces artichokes to each of the plates, and then pour a couple of tablespoons of the Mandarin/olive oil emulsion on top of the artichokes and around the Seabass. Serve immediately.

p.s. If you really want to be fancy, reserve one raw trimmed artichoke to be shaved on to the finished plate. That way you will have a contrasting textures and flavors between cooked and raw artichokes in the final dish.

Wine pairing notes

How to drink like a snob:
Since the dish is of Provençale origin, wines from that area would be fun to serve with it. Perhaps you might try a white wine from the Cassis region, or those from the obscure Bellet appellation from the mountains just inland from the Côte d’Azur.

And since the fish and the artichokes are also plentiful on the Southern Italian coast, Patrice Boyle, the proprietor of my favorite little wine shop in Santa Cruz, Soif, suggests a white from the Amalfi Coast. Perhaps something from Marisa Cuomo, whose delicious white wines, made predominantly from the local grape variety Falanghina, always go well with fish. The citrus notes on the wines will also be a great with the Mandarin emulsion sauce, and will provide enough acidity to stand up to the artichokes.

Actually practical suggestion:
Since the Drink Like a Snob note isn’t entirely practical. Here’s a suggestion that you could actually use.

For this dish, you want a white wine, certainly. You also don’t want oak or vanilla in the wine -so no Chardonnay, with a leaf turning or otherwise. Those things would be horrid with the artichokes. Stay with wines with a floral or fruity nose. Also choose something on the acidic side: white wines with a bit of a sweet note will be even sweeter when paired with artichokes, so stay away from them –the wines I mean, not the artichokes.

*A note on olive oil: The best oil for this recipe is a low-acid type olive oil made from ripe and mild olives. The green-ish Tuscan style olive oil -which stylistically tends to be from more assertive olives that are not fully ripen- wouldn’t work so well here. Instead, use Ligurian oil from Italy or Catalan oil from around Barcelona. Spanish olive oils are also generally lower in acid than the Californian or Tuscan varieties.

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9 Responses to “Artichoke, by any other name

  • Tom said:
    April 20th, 2007 at 9:29am

    The thorns are impressive. Your recipe looks really easy, Pim. Will it work with other kinds of artichokes?

  • MISHA said:
    April 20th, 2007 at 10:25am

    The photos are beautiful. Can you share what camera you use? The recpe look easy too. I think it will be delicious.

  • The Single Guy Chef said:
    April 20th, 2007 at 12:48pm

    So do you know if this variety of artichoke is available in the Bay Area? Sounds tasty. (BTW, I did a video of how to prep an artichoke just recently too if you guys want to check it out. I agree with you, though, it’s not a fun kitchen chore.)

  • Alexei said:
    April 23rd, 2007 at 9:35am

    Thanks for a great looking recipe and link to Gastoville. I’ve never seen that blog before.

  • Pim said:
    April 23rd, 2007 at 9:38am

    Tom, thanks, and yes, the recipe will work with just about any kind of artichoke.
    Misah, I’ll do a post on my camera soon. Thanks.
    Single Guy, thanks for the link. Daniel Patterson told me that he’s seen that artichoke around the Bay Area markets before. I’ve never seen it personally, but will be on the lookout for it this season. Will keep you posted.
    Alexei, you’re welcome.

  • Alberto said:
    April 23rd, 2007 at 1:33pm

    Would a Catalan olive oil would not also be a Spanish olive oil? The link you provide says so much: “Spain’s Department of Agriculture awarded DEUS with the distinction of Best Olive Oil of Spain in 2006.”
    Just sayin’… 😉

  • yish said:
    April 27th, 2007 at 6:12pm

    Hi luv,
    there’s another way to eat artichokes, you know.
    – cut off just the tips of the leaves (say, top 3cm)
    – givem a good wash and a shake (cutting the tips allows water to penetrate)
    – pack them tightly in a pot, head down and cover in water.
    – boil for 40-60 minutes, depends on variety (or 10 in a pressure cooker)
    now comes the fun. Take a *simple* sauce of your choice: hollandaise, spiced mayo, lemon and olive oil, melted butter.
    place your flower on a small plate, and start – she loves, me loves me not – pick off one leaf at a time, dip, scrape the soft lower part between your teeth, toss.
    (You will need a big rubbish bowl and a good partner for conversation)
    When you get to the ‘hair’ spoon it out. Now you will truly appreciate the heart of the artichoke!
    miss you,
    – Y.

  • lagramiere said:
    April 27th, 2007 at 11:44pm

    One of our local farmers magically showed up last week with these artichokes here in Saint Quentin la Poterie! He calls them “violettes de provence”. Nice huh? Last night we quartered them, tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper, then threw them on the grill. Exquisite!

  • Jesse said:
    May 5th, 2007 at 11:23pm

    Tairwa Farms had a bunch of these beautiful thorny artichokes at the Ferry Building this morning — I bought a few and will either roast or steam them tomorrow. Can’t wait to try them.

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