The evening meal is normally a salad, even in winter. The odd exception is a clear soup. Of which more later – in another post.
Alcachofas, artichokes, artichauts, carciofi
Onto the salads. In La Axarquía, where we live, fresh artichokes are available almost all year round. They are a bit of a pain towards the end of the season, because the chokes are too furry, but normally they are great.
A few years ago, one of our neighbours – not an immediate neighbour but one who considers us a neighbour because we live in the old part of the village, or maybe because he has got used to us, anyway, whatever – Pepe walked up to us one day after he had been harvesting artichokes. And gave us nine. What the hell do you do with nine fresh artichokes?
So I promptly looked up some recipes in one of my old books. “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle, and Julia Child, is one of my very favourite cook books. No glossy pictures to pay for, but great diagrams, and great explanations.
Under the vegetable section, there are appropriate sauces listed for each veg. And for cold artichokes, among others, it recommends Sauce Moutarde.
So, here is the sauce directly out of the book.
2tbl prepared French mustard – for me there is only one. Grey Poupon.
3tbl boiling water
Rinse a small mixing bowl in hot water. Add the mustard and beat with a wire whisk, adding the water by drops.
⅛ to ¼ pt olive oil or salad oil
Again, drop by drop, beat in the olive oil to make a thick, creamy sauce.
Salt and pepper
1 to 2 tbl parsley or chopped fresh green herbs
Beat in salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Then beat in the herbs.
These days I don’t make the sauce quite like that. Mainly because when I don’t have the book in front of me, I forget about the boiling water – BUT – it does give a good consistency.
I use a pestle and mortar to make the dressing because I can start by crushing rock salt and peppercorns, and if I want, I can also add garlic at the initial stage too, (say one clove) to turn it into a paste. Then add the mustard, and more or less follow the recipe. Adding the hot water just gives a different consistency. Instead, or as well as lemon juice, you can also add wine vinegar, or a more flavoured and stronger vinegar such as Vinagre de Jerez or balsamic vinegar (too sweet for our taste – but if you like it, fine). But not much as you will be putting some onto the cooked artichokes later. As for oil, I use a local extra virgin olive oil from Periana. I wouldn’t use anything else, but if you like a milder taste, you might want to use sunflower oil.
There are some fancy ways to prepare artichokes but basically unless you have bought VERY FRESH artichokes they are all a waste of time. They need to smell oily, even when you pick them up. They need to look fresh and not remotely tired. They are great if they have that super purple tinge.
To prepare them, the essence is speed, so then they don’t discolour. Chop off the stalk, leaving a small amount (it is quite tasty), and then take off the outer leaves quickly with a sharp knife. Just go round the vegetable almost like a spiral staircase.
When you have got rid of the tough ones, you are ready. Sometimes I think I take off more than I need to, but it saves getting chewy leaves later on. Then chop off the top third or so. If they are large, chop them in half. And – if the chokes are large and furry, take them out. If there is hardly any choke, it’s not worth the effort. I have tried putting lemon juice or vinegar on the exposed edges of the raw veg but I don’t think it makes any difference. But do not leave them sitting around.
Put them immediately in boiling (or nearly boiling if you aren’t that organised) water with a load of vinegar or lemon juice. If you have chopped them in half, putting them face down saves them going black/grey.
They are ready when a knife goes through them, without them falling apart.
Take them out, say with a draining spoon and put them in a bowl to cool. Add more vinegar to preserve the colour. I forgot to say, you need to like vinegar (and mustard) for this recipe.
When they have cooled slice them thinly so they are easy to eat. Put them in a presentation dish, and add the Sauce Moutarde, mixing well in, but leaving some herbs on top for presentation.
It has taken longer to write this than it does to make the salad. They keep in the fridge and can be added to casseroles or paella or whatever. As a salad it is just as good the next day.
We tend to eat it with a mixed green salad, tomato, cucumber, olives, fresh onions, and parsley from the garden. Sometimes fresh broad beans go well, and tonight I am adding some blanched cauliflower.
Ironically, although they are grown round here, we have never seen fresh ones on the menu at restaurants, you only ever get tinned artichokes in a salad or on a pizza. Similarly my neighbour also uses tinned ones in salad, and when she buys fresh ones (rarely) they end up in a bean casserole.
They are incredibly good for you. They contain minerals, especially phosphorus, potassium and iron. They are also great for fibre, citric and malic acid, and enzymes which help to break down protein. They are also, apparently good for your liver and gall bladder.
I forgot to mention what to drink with them. “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” says that ‘most wine authorities agree that water should be served with them rather than wine, for wine changes its character when drunk with this vegetable. But, if you insist, serve a strong, dry, chilled white wine such as a Mâcon, or a chilled and characterful rosé such as a Tavel.’
My Spanish recipe book says – to cut the translation short – that artichokes make white wine taste bad. Instead you should serve cava with them. I tend to follow this recommendation.
Here endeth the lesson on alcachofas. An acquired taste, but worth the effort.