When I kick the bucket, my kids will ask two questions: 1) how much cash is left in the mattress for them and 2) who’s going to make artichoke soup when the old broad is pushing up geraniums?
Oh, might be ugly but it’s true. Once the moolah is in their mitts, assuming I haven’t managed to bounce my last check, they’ll move on to number two. And when my babes realize their soup slave has relocated to that great bouillabaisse in the sky, their agitated faces will make Munch’s Mr. Scream look like he’s just returned from a week at the Golden Door.
How did I create such a jambalaya? About 33 years ago, I enrolled in a cooking class with Chef James Sly of L’Orangerie, a swankily stupendous Los Angeles restaurant sporting cuisine à la française, eclipsing my tacos à la crapola. Neither a swanky nor a stupendous cook, I figured it was time to amp up my game from bean dip to something with more syllables.
Entrée Crème Purée D’Artichaut aka Artichoke Soup......
This was the first course on the recipe manifesto. And after Annihilating the Fine Art of French Cooking, I was an eager student. Oh yeh, I had Julia’s book and worked over a few of her numbers. Worked ‘em good. Fried my eyebrows as well as the chicken when I flambéed the Coq au Vin. And by the time I got the Ratatouille on the table, I was underneath it, lying prone in the dead bug position after swirling those veggies like a tarantella. To say nothing of the sponge cake which was as light and frothy as the village smithy’s anvil.
Back to class. At age 26, with my hair in a “Farrah” and the rest of me poured into something impractical, I had Chef Sly’s attention. Bonjour, Monsieur.
Noting that I needed specific direction, zee Chef tossed an artichoke to me along with a knife that would make Jack the Ripper drool. He (not Jack – he wasn’t in the class) told me I was only as good as my utensils. Now that’s a line for the ages. At which point I recalled Mom rolling out that pie crust with a vodka bottle just minutes before she flung it (the dough, not the vodka of course) across the room. I refrained from sharing how a Smirnoff bottle was considered a useful tool in my house and decided I’d let my tight sweater do all the talking.
Mano a mano with a mean looking artichoke, I began to work. I couldn’t pare a banana, let alone something green, coarse and prickly, with fifty leaves and a bad attitude. Reminded me of an old boyfriend.
Vigorously, with coaching from the big Kahuna in the tall white hat, I trimmed that puppy down to the heart, then using a melon baller (how do they say that in French?), I scooped out the choke. Voilà. I was au courant. Au proficient. Au boobalicious. Julia, you might be a master but I look better in a tight sweater and I can tap dance, too. Neener neener neener.
I tossed that artichoke heart into a pot of simmering chicken stock with a few other goodies à la française, then pureed, while whisking a little of this and a little of that. Un peu et un peu. Edible music appeared. The Rach 3 was translated into the first course.
And the taste …oh the taste….was something way beyond Campbell’s vocabulary. Or mine. It was as smooth and sultry and delicately sensuous as anything I had ever devoured and I couldn’t wait to make it for my family, who would be impressed that I could not only sing all the words to the UCLA Fight song but I could ALSO cook.
Thus began my soup saga which flourishes today. And when I kick the proverbial bucket, my kids who order out, order in, and fall into the “clueless cooks” category, will be soupless.
It’s not my bod they’d want to cryogenically preserve. Rather, my ravenous offspring would prefer I get to work making massive batches of the stuff, transferred into the deep freeze right next to Ted Williams and the Cherry Garcia.
So here, for the ages, is my Crème Puree D’Artichaut. Labor intensive but oh, très merveilleuse! C’est formidable! No tight sweater or vodka required. Still, an endangered species in my house. C’est la vie.
Crème Puree D’Artichaut
1 large artichoke
½ cup of chicken stock
½ cup of crème fraîche
1 oz. sweet butter
½ egg yolk
2 T. dry sherry
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 bay leaf,
salt, pepper, cayenne to taste
It’s easy to find crème fraîche in grocery stores today, but Chef Sly taught us to make it ourselves. So I do. I whisk several tablespoons of plain yogurt with a quart of cream, let sit at room temp (a day or two depending on how hot your kitchen is, baby) and suddenly, you’ll find that it thickens, considerably, like sour cream. Crème fraîche doesn’t “break” as easily as sour cream, that’s why it is used. Up to you…or ….buy it.
The time “intensive” part is prepping the chokes. Find the fattest, freshest, nicest artichokes available.
Wash the chokes well. Prepare a bowl of acidulated water – that’s water with a bunch of lemons to toss the prepared “hearts” in while you are cleaning the other artichokes. Don’t be alarmed as the trimmed raw chokes turn “brown.” They taste the same and for the most part, the color of the soup won’t be too terribly affected.
With a sharp knife, begin trimming the choke down, carefully, until you get to the center. The heart. The good stuff.
One you have a clean heart, remove the choke with a spoon or melon baller.
Drop into the acidulated lemon water to prevent discoloration.
Once all the chokes are cleaned, drain from the lemon water and drop into chicken stock with bay leaf, and thyme.
Simmer until very tender - about 20-30 minutes.
Let cool slightly, then puree in batches.
At this point, you've made "the base" which freezes perfectly. So that means when artichokes are in season, cheaper and more plentiful, you can make the base to be used at a later date.
On the day I plan to serve the soup, a few hours before, I will whisk the egg yolks with half the crème fraîche and set aside. Then in a large pot, I'll drop in the soup "base" to begin heating, along with the remaining crème fraîche and the sherry, while whisking and warming. Once the soup base is warm, I'll add a bit of the warm soup base/creme fraiche mixture to the egg yolk/creme fraiche mixture, tempering the eggs. Then return the entire egg mixture into the pot and warm gently. Do not boil. Bring to a barely simmering point, cooking the egg mixture for about 7 minutes, and now...time to taste. Add a knifepoint of cayenne or just enough to give it a slight kick. Add butter to taste. (I actually add very little butter - I don't think you need too much.) Taste for salt and pepper. And I always add a bit more sherry. And a swirl of paprika. Bon appetit!