Thursday, February 3, 2011

Artichoke Clafoutis

Any avid cookbook reader or collector will know that even poor cookbooks can serve you well in the kitchen (emphasis on the can). Even cookbooks with serious problems are often, if nothing else, inspiration for the cook who has seen it all, done it all, and has a jaded palate (I'm not talking about myself here--I still get the shivers when I eat a good BLT). Let me introduce you to such a cookbook. The Silver Spoon is a cookbook that I don't recommend unless you're really into Italian cooking, and I would also caution you against it if you don't have much experience in the kitchen because it offers little in the way of instruction. However, there are pages upon pages of food porn--really beautiful stuff. You'll want to make everything in it based on the photos, but that's made difficult by the fact that the recipes are so poorly written. But if you're only fishing for ideas, it's a great book to flip through.

We got in a shipment of artichokes from California this past week and have been scrambling to use them all. We've done Braised Baby Artichokes and Peas, Fried Artichokes, Stuffed Artichokes, and Marinated Artichokes. Before I get too much further along, I'd like to ask who in the world was the first person to eat an artichoke? I mean, it's a relative of the thistle, it has thorns, most of the leaves are too tough to eat, and when you get to the middle of one, a place where you might imagine there to be something tasty, there's a hairy, prickly little thing to choke on (appropriately called a "choke"). I imagine the first person to eat one only did so successfully after several attempts. I've seen goats try to eat thistle, and I imagine this resembles what the first person to eat an artichoke looked like--hollering and moaning while trying to choke it down.

But if you know how to properly trim an artichoke, they can be quite good, and the baby ones are especially succulent. We had some in our box that didn't even have a choke yet. But here's what you have to do to enjoy them properly: Have a bowl ready with water and the juice from half a lemon in it. Artichokes are like apples or avocados--if you cut them open and don't coat them with lemon juice, they will turn a truly hideous shade of brown. Cut the stem end and the prickly top off the artichokes. If you have large ones, you'll need to cut off more than if you have small ones. You will also need to pull away the tough outer leaves until you reach the inner, more tender ones.

When you cut away the top of the artichoke, you will expose a little purple "cap" of leaves. Pull that out to expose the choke. With a spoon (grapefruit spoons work particularly well for this) dig out the choke, and rinse the artichoke to make sure all the little hairs are gone from inside. At this point, you're ready to go with whatever method you choose to cook them. For the purposes of this recipe, you'll need to cut your artichokes in half. I wouldn't recommend using large artichokes for this recipe--they're just too tough. You want artichokes small enough to eat whole once you've peeled away the tough outer leaves (ours were about tennis ball size before we trimmed them).

The following recipe is adapted from the Silver Spoon cookbook. I adapted it because it would have had a really boring flavor profile if I hadn't. A recipe that calls for one sprig (it seriously called for one and only one sprig) of parsley as the only seasoning besides salt and pepper is not going to tantalize those tastebuds. Feel free to play around with seasonings here, but you'll probably want to keep it fresh--think green herbs. The flavor of an artichoke is fairly delicate, so you don't want to go too crazy. Also, I've been told that Pinot Noir is the only wine to serve with artichokes because they make everything you eat taste sweet. It's a strange phenomenon, but try it out. Eat an artichoke, then take a sip of water--sweet water. Fascinating.

Artichoke Clafoutis
serves 4-6
Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a ten-inch ovenproof dish with butter or cooking spray.
Half-fill a bowl with water, and add:
Juice of 1/2 lemon, strained
Trim, halve, and place in the water for ten minutes:
8 small artichokes
Sift into a large bowl:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Stir in, one at a time:
3 eggs
Whisk in gradually:
1 3/4 cups milk
Stir in:
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped fennel fronds
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper or white pepper
Drain the artichokes, pat dry, and place, cut side down, in the prepared baking dish. Pour the batter over them and bake for 30 minutes, or until the clafoutis batter is fairly firm and slightly puffed.

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