Sunday, 22 July 2012

Globe Artichoke Vinaigrette

Look, this is hardly a recipe - boiled globe artichokes served with French vinaigrette - instead it is a celebration of French produce, over that of our meagre English offerings.

Having spent a week in Nice in a rented flat, with small kitchen, I was given the opportunity to do some food shopping and cooking in France. What a revelation. The supermarkets are incredible - racks and racks of fresh produce all beautifully fanned-out in concentric circles of colourful and interesting ingredients, all waiting to inspire any eager cook to turn them into culinary alchemy.

The fruit and vegetable range changes daily - selling whatever is in season and happens to have provided the most bountiful, high quality, locally-grown crop on any given day. Of course, most of the obvious salad veg is on sale every day, but as the week went on, I grew to be less surprised by the daily almighty fluctuations of price and strain of each item as I browsed the racks, looking for the day's bargains.

Some days, watermelons were 2 Euros each, then the price would rise to 5 Euros each as the supply and demand curve dictated. Large Coeur de Beauf tomatoes would regularly flip-flop between 1-3 Euros a piece.

Fish prices were a little more stable and meat prices even more so. Wine and beer stocks changed almost daily, and the French seemed to get through lakes of the stuff. One day, Mrs Ribeye took a liking to a nectarine-infused wine, and asked me to get her another bottle while I did the day's shopping. No chance - the entire shelf had been picked clean.

One day, the rack of artichokes which had normally featured some tennis ball-sized examples at 1.50 Euros each, gave way to some melon-sized ones for 75 cents. A bargain! So I picked up a couple, and decided to simply boil them for an hour and serve them warm with a vinaigrette made with a lovely local olive oil/red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard dressing. Heaven.

Another thing about these artichokes - unlike the imported ones we buy over here in England - is that they are cheaper and better in every way. Firstly, they are huge, with enormous, smooth meaty hearts, with easy-to-remove hairy chokes, and chunky leaves with a good mouthful of edible stuff at the base of each one. Not scrawny with stringy hearts, impossible-to-remove chokes, and mostly inedible leaves, like ours. Secondly, they are prettier - when cut, the interiors have the most vibrant purple-coloured inner leaves I have ever seen. Positively psychedelic. Thirdly, when cut and boiled, they don't discolour and go that horrible black colour like the ones here at home - which even a sprinkle of lemon juice during the cooking period cannot cure (regardless of what published recipes might say). And fourthly, they're home-grown in France, which means that they were picked and sold within a day - not passengers on a long haul flight, where almost all of that fresh goodness had been lost in transit.

Also, even if I buy French olive oil, French red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard at home, the dressing wouldn't be as good as the one I made in Nice. Why? Because anything you make and eat abroad, somehow loses its appeal a bit when you bring it back. I don't know why - The French will probably say something about terroir or something. But surely if the stuff was grown there and merely imported here, the terroir is the same? Infuriating.

This recipe, a fabulous starter on a warm summer's day, came in at under £1 per serving. Even if you pay more for your ingredients, it's still a very reasonably-priced dish.

Serves 2


2 large globe artichokes
A large pinch of salt


4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
Pinches of salt and black pepper

Snip off the top third of the artichoke to remove the woodier parts of the upper leaves, and expose the inner leaves. Twist-off the stalk at the base of the artichoke. Boil in plenty of salted water until soft (an hour approx) - the outer leaves should easily part from the rest of the body when cooked. In the meantime, mix the vinaigrette ingredients together, until you have a smooth emulsion, and set aside until needed.

To serve: Place an artichoke in a serving bowl and pour some of the vinaigrette around the base. Eat the leaves by picking them one-by-one from the artichoke and dipping them in the sauce - eat only the soft lower portion and discard the rest. Once all leaves have been eaten, remove the hairy choke from the heart, by pulling it away gently - it should come away quite easily. Cut the heart into chunks with a knife and fork and eat it with the rest of the vinaigrette.

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