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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Nothing Clever - Just Artichoke Soup

I first had artichoke soup at Duartes in Pescadero and thought, "hmm, this is pretty good. I bet I can make this at home."

As usual, the thought, like most thoughts, lingered around a bit in my head, swimming around passionately, and eventually petering out with me winning the blue ribbon at the local County Fair as I stand with the shiny, brass trophy and a self-congratulating, smug look emanating from a sideways smirk on my face. At this point, my delusional, ambitious, and way Too Much Information, inner voice switches to endless thoughts of futility, like "is there a correct side of the sidewalk to walk down and if so, should I be bothered by those who break this social convention and why or why not?", and then years pass before something triggers that artichoke soup making daydream.

This is the result of having a rich inner life. It's gold, I tell ya.

But then yesterday I saw artichokes for sale in, of all places, Whole Foods. And actually, they were pretty damn cheap! And you know me – I wear cheap like a pleather trenchcoat standing in line at Big Lots! Not only that, but they're in season and they're grown locally in Castroville, so that by buying them, I'm actually doing something good in the world!

And you know what that means, right? Well, performing one good deed is basically like getting a free coupon to do a bit of evil, and boy let me tell you, I need a wicked act like Samburg needs cupcakes. Got any suggestions?

I sometimes feel like I have 5 evil credit cards that are all maxed out at once. A good deed day is like being able to skip a late payment on Friday.

Generally I eat artichokes in two ways: one, steaming them and eating them with garlic butter and two, buying the baby ones and double frying them in oil, like you would do french fries. Those rock!

This recipe was culled from several different sources and modified with what I had on hand.

First, wash the artichokes, because dying from vegetable-related e.colli or salmonella was last year's new black.

Next, I trim the excess stem down and cut the top half of the artichoke off. I'm not worried about discoloration since I'm immediately throwing them in the steamer, but if I was going to let them sit out for any length of time, I'd rub them with lemon juice or a mixture of juice and water. You have to do this crap (sorry, I just finished watching Paulie Walnuts about 20 min. ago) with avocados, apples, pears, potatoes, and basil as well.

After I've prepared the artichokes, I get a large pot with a steamer basket in the bottom and some water going on medium high. Then I place the artichokes, cut side down, in the pot and cover. The steaming process never seems to be exact and often I just go on color change. Plus, it doesn't seem that artichokes take that long to steam, so after 5 or 10 minutes I'll check them, and if the color of the chokes have changed to a dark green, I can pretty well assume they're done. Of course, you can also pull an outer leaf away and see how tender the stem end is.

While the artichokes are steaming, I've cut up and washed two big elephant garlic cloves, 2 regular garlic cloves, and a medium sized leek. In place of these, you could use a regular yellow onion, a medium potato, and a little more garlic. Like I said, what's on hand. I've also assembled a bouquet garni of fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, 2 dried bay leaves, and a teaspoon of peppercorns. I didn't have any cheesecloth on hand for the bouquet garni, but I did have a large tea ball/strainer, which works perfectly in its place.

After the artichokes have cooked and I've cut the hearts into chunks (as well as chopping up the tender leaves slightly), I sauté the leek and garlic in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Most recipes I've seen call for butter, but I'm trying to use up this olive oil before it gets old. Plus, my inner nutritionist has been telling me to eat more olive oil and less butter recently.

Added to that sautéing mixture are the artichokes, which I fry just for a minute or so over medium heat. Next, add around 7 cups of stock to the pot and stir. You may or may not want to add additional stock, but doesn't hurt to keep a little extra on hand.

For this recipe I used the stock I had in the freezer, mostly because I needed to go through it before I could make any more. It just happened to be that this was beef stock – and here is where my recipe went slightly wrong. I should've used vegetable or chicken stock. The beef stock was wayyy too flavorful for this soup and somewhat overpowered the artichoke flavor.

Anyway. Add to this the bouquet garni and bring to a good simmer. After simmering for about an hour, let it cool slightly and then puree it in the Cuisinart. This is tricky (I hate working with hot liquids sometimes) and should be done in small batches.

After everything is pureed, I ran the mixture through a wire mesh strainer back into the original pot. This may require two people and a little elbow grease. Using a rubber spatula, force the mixture through the strainer and discard anything left in it.

Once this is completed, return the soup to a simmer and stir occasionally for several minutes, then turn off the heat. Let cool for about 5 minutes and then stir in some heavy cream or half and half. I like using half and half and slowly stirred in about a cup (or however much you want).

I love this last part...ladle into bowls, top with some freshly chopped parsley (or cilantro or you could dollop a little more cream), and tear off a few hunks of Acme's Sour Batard or Olive Bread (awesome!) and commence eating!

Seasonal, local, tasty, and good.



Blogger Cali said...

Oh, dear Kevin! You need an immersion blender! They are the best kitchen tools since toasters! You can just plug them in and puree the hell out of anything you want-- WHILE IT'S STILL COOKING! I've used mine (a Braun) in boiling liquids lots of times. I use mine to puree soups, to mix slurry into gravy (no lumps guaranteed!), and once you've used one to make mayonaise you'll never use anything else! It's also perfect to blend raw eggs and make milkshakes. The best part? They only cost about $25. Some will even whip cream!

Also, you could use a stainless steel China cap. It's a cone shaped seive that will balance on the pot and is sturdy enough to take some serious pressure. They come in varying sizes and the holes vary in size, unit to unit. You might be able to find them at a reasonable price in one of the kitchen stores in Chinatown. They tend to be kind of expensive at places like Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table.

Barring that, a food mill with multiple plates can do a good job of straining most anything. I use mine most often when making marinara sauce to strain out the tomato skins. The plate with the biggest holes can also be used to make spaetzel.

12:20 AM  
Blogger drbiggles said...

Hmmm, not sure what an artichoke is. But that looks pretty darned good, huge fan of the soup.

Ya know, those things look like the plants I used to plow through while riding my bike, when I used to do such things.


1:51 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

looks gorgeous and i agree with the immersion blender tip.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Kris Ardent said...

Things you must do, if you like happiness:

1. Go back to Duarte's and have the Cream of Green Chile soup. (Then recreate the recipe here for me, and my happiness.)

2. Go to Castroville for the Artichoke Festival. GAAAAH! It was last week!!! Now happiness will have to wait until next May. Maybe Cream of Green Chile soup will tide you over.

6:26 AM  

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