Hiya ladies and gentlemen, it's artichoke season.
I had written this whole blurb about the sun ebbing through the winter chill or something similarly nauseating (which my grandmother would just adore) but then I deleted the whole thing because although yes, Spring is dangling its beckoning, tanned and stockinged leg around the corner of this gloomy season, the fact of the matter is that winter was a rather dismal blotch on my cooking repertoire. This last Sunday past I ruined four perfectly good eggs before arriving at two semi-decent poached ones. Lovely though my boyfriend is, it must be tough on him having a girlfriend who sobs over smashed eggs. Although he'd be happy with a bowl of Sultana Bran so thankfully there's no love lost there.
Anyway, even through the dark days of my kitchen fails x 1000,000, there are things to look forward to. Not to mention my impending trip to the USA in two weeks, I'm getting hot-under-the-collar thinking about spring eating and spring living. Broad beans, blueberries, avocados and asparagus, rosé and barbecued prawns; it's all coming. We had the most chubby, meaty stalks of steamed asparagus dolloped with a buttery almond cream on the weekend. It got me thinking about serving a pile of steamed stalks with melty, gooey tallegio, or brown butter and almonds, a whole stack of delicious things which I can see in my asparagus future. But asparagus are an easy vegetable and I needed something completely unfamiliar to jolt me out of my stupor and back into action. The artichoke.
Everyone always bangs on about how fiddly they are to prepare, but they also wont shut up about how worth it they are, so I figured snapping a couple of leaves couldn't be that hard, and do you know what? It wasn't. I picked up one lonesome 'choke from the grocer on Sunday night and studied up on Stephanie Alexander's good words on the subject. She seemed to think I could do it, and so I did. I even managed a lemony beurre blanc sauce to dip the leaves into, huzzah!
Artichoke with Beurre Blanc Sauce
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander's "The Cook's Companion"
Serves 2 as a light snack or starter
Choose an artichoke that is glossy and heavy with tightly closed leaves and a firm stem. If it feels flacid (for want of a better word) when you hold it by the stem, it's not fresh.
wedge of lemon
beurre blanc sauce
1 tablespoon finely diced French shallot
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
100g butter cut into 6 cubes
salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. To prepare your artichoke, snap off the first two or three layers of outer leaves, until you notice that the leaves are a lighter shade of green or yellow at the base. Cut off the stem leaving a 1cm stub at the bottom. Rub all cut surfaces with the lemon wedge to stop them turning brown. Artichokes brown very quickly when severed. Cut off the top third of the artichoke with a knife to dispose of the pointy, sharp ends of the leaves. Rub the cut side with the lemon.
Place the artichoke into the pot of boiling water, and place a small plate over the top of it so the artichoke remains submerged. Boil for 15 minutes. When the artichoke is ready you will be able to spear a skewer through the heart with little resistance. If you hit a hard core, then continue boiling for another couple of minutes.
When the artichoke is tender, remove from the water and leave to cool for a few minutes.
In the meantime, make the sauce.
Sauté the shallots, wine and white pepper in a small, heavy-based saucepan until most of the liquid has evaporated. Over a low-medium heat, add each cube of butter, whisking after each addition, not adding the next cube until the previous one is completely melted, whisking all the while, until a thick, glossy sauce emerges. Squeeze the juice of about a 1/4 lemon into the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and keep warm.
Place the artichoke in a bowl and fan out the leaves so they are easily detached. To eat this yummy thing, pull one leaf off at a time, scoop up a pool of sauce into the leaf, and suck the soft flesh off the artichoke, leaving the woody, tough part of the leaf behind. Once you reach the tender center you should be able to eat the entire leaf.