I think I’m in love with artichokes. I love to eat them, I love to look at them, I even love to think about them. They are just so beautiful and delicious tasting. Sometimes I put them in a vase, they are as beautiful as any flower. I can’t get enough of these shades of green mixed with purple. When they are in season I simply want them every day.
Once when we were in Rome, looking for something special, we asked a friendly waiter at a winebar to recommend a nice place to go for dinner. The theory being that if the place is good, they will know other good places. At first the waiter gave us a few names, places we knew, places we didn’t really like. I guess he saw the disappointment in our eyes because the next time he came to our table, probably with another glass of Brunello, he dropped a name card on the table. “Maybe you will like this place, it’s a bit … special”. The card simply said, “Ristorante Piperno”. More importantly it had a lovely illustration of artichokes. My heart told me instantly, “go there”. So we found ourselves having a second lunch, deep-fried artichokes, then more deep-fried artichokes and the rest I can’t remember, but it was lovely. Everything else about the place was magical, the uniformed waiters, the forest green walls, the old school feel. We’ve gone back every time we’ve been in Rome and for years that card sat on my dressing table as a beautiful souvenir of my beloved artichokes in Rome. Over time it was smudged and ruffled by sticky little fingers but I always picked it up and put it back on the table. One day it was gone forever, with all the kids and dogs it can be difficult to hold onto fragile belongings. But I’ll always have the memories.
The point is that, for me, an artichoke can only lead to good things. It happened again last week. We have a habit of going to markets and one of our favorite stalls is “la famille Aubert”, real farm people who grow beautiful organic vegetables. Their stall always have a very seasonal feel, filled with exciting fruits and vegetables, especially the irresistible purple garlic. They also sell flowers and their daughter Elodie makes Médoc’s best organic bread. For the last few weeks they’ve had the most glorious artichokes, tight, fresh and unbelievably green. I’ve always wanted to see their farm and finally asked if I could. The answer was, but bien sûr (of course).
It was a magical place, incredible artichoke fields graced by a house that anybody would want to live in and looks like it’s been painted to go with the vegetables they grow. Calling this place special is an understatement. I arrived home with about thirty fabulous artichokes and wanted to do something great. The first few I simply steamed and enjoyed picking them apart and dipping them in olive oil, lemon, garlic and salt. But I wanted more, something I had not made before. And then it hit me, a soufflé with artichokes. I frequently make soufflés, for dessert, with cheese. But never with artichokes. I experimented with a few sorts. One turned out too lumpy but delicious. Another one was great but the cheese overpowered my precious artichokes and we can’t have that. Finally I got it right, to my taste anyway. The kids loved it, my husband begged for more and my mother-in-law liked it, and she’s not even an artichoke fan.
I wonder what I will do next with my little green wonders, perhaps stuffed with pistachios and mint, almond and garlic? Let’s see…
Ingredients: (serves 4)
Note: You will only be using the artichoke hearts for this recipe.
4 large artichokes
4 eggs, separated
250 ml/ 1 cup full cream milk
60 g/ ¼ cup butter
30 g/ 4 tbsp flour + extra for dusting ramekins
25 g/ ¼ cup grated Gruyère or Comté cheese
Salt and black pepper
For the artichokes:
Trim artichokes stem and cook in boiling salted water until tender – approx 45 minutes to an hour depending on size. Drain, remove leaves, remove fuzzy choke and reserve the heart (fleshy center part). Purée artichoke hearts with a vegetable masher until smooth.
For the cheese béchamel:
On a medium heat, melt butter and add flour. Whisk until smooth and gradually add milk whisking away. Season with salt and pepper. Stir until sauce thickens. Off the heat, add grated Gruyère or Comté, stir until melted. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then add the egg yolks, one by one, followed by the artichoke purée. Mix well until smooth.
Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Add a pinch of salt then continue whisking until stiff. Fold egg whites gently into in artichoke/béchamel mixture.
Grease 4 ramequins with butter and dust with flour on all sides including base lightly. Fill the ramequins to 1/2-inch from the top with mixture.
Cook in preheated oven 180°C/ 350 F for 25-30 minutes. Serve immediately.