I have no compunction in firmly closing a book and returning it to the shelf if I am not enjoying it or, indeed, if I simply do not like it. On one such occasion, when I was very much younger, finding myself so disengaged with the words I was reading, I threw the book out of the window of a moving train. We grow older and sillier and in that silliness our compass becomes less fixed, meaning that we can meander backwards and forwards through time finding new pleasure in things we would previously have shown the window. I have to confess that I have never found the wonder that is enjoyed by so many in the plays of William Shakespeare. During my school days I read, studied and indeed successfully answered questions on a handful of his works and on leaving school worked a summer job at Chichester Festival Theatre where the finest Shakespearean actors plied their trade. I am now neither keen on actors nor Shakespeare. Maybe I have haven’t had one that I liked. The same may be said about artichokes. They have a very sophisticated reputation in good restaurants as an hors d’oeuvre and they look as though they were designed by an architect but, as with WS there’s an awful lot to plough through before you get to the good bit. I cannot bring myself to use the name Globe Artichoke because of the Shakespearean overtones so I will continue with the French nomenclature of Artichaut Camus…a writer who I remember enjoying very much when I read a couple of his books whilst I was at art school but I have no idea why: it may just have been because he was French. It has to be said that these huge artichokes have another quality that attracts and that is their cheapness. Elizabeth David is someone who I do enjoy reading ( maybe if Shakespeare had included more recipes I would have warmed to him) and it was a small piece in her seminal work “French Provincial Cooking” that set me to preparing this simplest of all suppers. The piece caught my eye, not only because I had looked up “artichoke, things to do with” in the index, but also because it was not just a recipe but a description of a dinner she had enjoyed, some 50 years ago, at La Mere Brazier in Lyon, a restaurant that I myself visited last year. Ms.David had eaten saucisson en brioche, sole meuniere and poularde en demi deuil, a daunting affair, and was wondering how on earth she would manage an artichoke heart topped with a slice of foie gras that was to be the next course. As it turned out, the artichoke heart was served as the simplest and lightest of salads although, I have to admit, I could not have dealt with preceding three courses let alone considered an artichoke salad before cheese and dessert.
For this salad each person should be served a whole artichoke heart and therein lies the only fly in this particular ointment. The artichoke in the opening picture is in a large le Creuset casserole and there certainly isn’t room for another in there…which makes me think this is a supper for one. Thinking of the logistics for preparing this dish for six people makes me want jump out of the window of a moving train leaving the book on the seat. Back to preparation. Cut the stem off and then cut off the top of the artichoke. Put the prepared artichoke into a casserole of well acidulated and salted water, bring to the boil and cook for about 40 minutes. Drain and cool the artichoke, but don’t let it get cold, and then remove the outside leaves and the choke, leaving you with the tender artichoke heart. Put some good salad leaves, such as mesclun, onto a plate and dress the salad with oil and lemon ( or maybe some tarragon vinegar),place the heart on top and drizzle with the same dressing. It’s worth a try…if you don’t like it, chuck it out of the window.