on a wing and a préau….


The longing, in this month of April, for the warmth of summer is with me for an unseemly proportion of my waking and dreaming moments. A longing that has me limping along these final few furlongs of heavy going before winter, spring, or whatever this unseasonably cold period is called, finally does the decent thing and drops dead. I weary of daffodils; I need the sun, and when it arrives I shall hide from its glorious heat beneath our newly constructed (might be useful in a crossword) préau and drink chilled wine and eat delicious dishes such as artichauts à la greque with good bread to soak up the oil until both the sun and I, exhausted from a hard day’s shining and dining, will happily turn off and turn in. However, were this to be an ointment, in it there would be a very large fly. Indeed, as I conjure, legions of mosquitoes, wasps and other mordant beasts are currently nestled, nascent, in some dark place waiting for that very same sun to awake their determination to buzz, bite and generally do their damnedest to fuck up the idyllic long summer evenings of those very dreams. And that’s summer….bites, burns and sand in sandwiches ….with which I am so much happier than I am with the pinched faced cold of the other six months…yet without the aching anticipation, those longed for moments would lack their delectable savour….which brings me back to those artichauts à la greque..

Young purple artichokes,without chokes, quartered and peeled. Cooked in oil and water with aromatics.

Young purple artichokes,without chokes, quartered and peeled. Cooked in oil and water with aromatics.

Here is a précis of Elizabeth David’s recipe from “French Provincial Cooking”.

“To prepare the artichokes for cooking in this way have ready a bowl of water acidulated with lemon juice. Draw your sharpest knife through a lemon and rub the artichoke also with lemon. Cut off the stalk and hard leaves on the underside, then slice through the leaf part right down to the tip to the last but one row of leaves nearest the stalk. Holding the artichoke in your left hand rotate it while with the knife slanting towards you in your right hand you slice off the hard outer leaves until only the little tender pale green ones remain. Scoop out the choke ( le foin, the hay) with a little silver spoon. As each artichoke is ready throw it into the prepared bowl of water. Although it takes so long to describe it is really only a matter of a minute, especially after a little practice.

The fonds or hearts are now ready to be boiled, stewed, sauté in butter, stuffed, ect. To cook them à la greque first prepare a mixture of  1/2 pint of boiling water, a small coffee cup of olive oil, a sprig of thyme and a bayleaf, about 10 coriander seeds, a little salt and pepper, and the juice of half a small lemon. Bring this to the boil in a small saucepan, tall rather than wide. Put in the prepared artichoke hearts ( 4 for this quantity of liquid), and let them simmer steadily for 15 minutes. Leave them to cool in the liquid. Cut them in quarters when cold and serve them in a shallow dish with some of their liquid.”

I get a great deal of pleasure from reading her precise instructions on cooking something with which we are now so familiar, whilst reflecting that, at the time of writing, artichokes were a little known vegetable to the English publicand even good olive oil was not easy to find.


About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
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37 Responses to on a wing and a préau….

  1. Nadia says:

    A great, easy summer dish to enjoy with a chilled rosé. I can imagine it already. Now, it just needs to warm up.

  2. ghetran says:

    yum! You sure have a way with words, I can see myself dining together with u and ur family on your porch.:-)

  3. bizzyella says:

    Looks like summer already, Roger. If only it were true.

  4. Mad Dog says:

    Delicious looking artichokes and nice préau too! I see you put a cat flap in for the cat that lives in the shed 😉

  5. Sue says:

    Oh, good old ED…she certainly knew how to cook….

  6. When my dad (he’s Italian) first built a structure in the garden, he got a bit confused with the words for building and invited people to come and admire his “erection”. Of course, this became part of the family vocabulary and legend, and we often talk about the many hours of pleasure friends have had sitting under Franco’s erection. I do hope yours, which is a thing of great beauty, brings you and your loved ones as much joy. PS. I also remember going out to eat with the family in the 1970s and ordering artichoke if it was on the menu. Not as glorious as your version but I loved just dipping the leaves in vinaigrette (and driving the rest of the family mad at how long I took to eat it, luxuriating in very little mouthful, before we could all move on to the next course )!

  7. I’d like to sit at that table and eat those artichokes with an appropriate wine 🙂

  8. ardysez says:

    Your lovely French home looks idyllic. I love David’s reference to a ‘small silver spoon’ for removing the choke. I’m wondering if it is her poetic way or if using silver reduces chance of a chemical reaction thus discoloring the artichoke. May the warm sun find you soon 🙂

    • That’s funny…the same phrase caught my eye and I’m sure that’s what she meant. I like her style of writing very much but it’s from another time when we weren’t all writers, cooks, photographers, novelists…when some people were doctors and nurses among other useful professions…where selfies didn’t exist..well, not as photographs…and when people would have the time to slowly read a book to find out about new things… slowly…another time:)

  9. Eha says:

    Roger, do take care – or you will have to put a lot more chairs out so we all can enjoy both the wine and the artichokes 🙂 ! And talking of that ‘other’ word: I happen to have a famous Down Under artist’s rather ‘naughty’ small painting hanging above my toilet: just for fun, you understand! Still remember a big party way back when a very darling but proper Japanese girlfriend loudly remarked on people entering the said facility ‘Oh, they just go there to have elections’! The darling could not make out why all those near by were in hysterics!!! [For those who do not know Japanese: saying the letter ‘r’ is virtually impossible for them!]

  10. What a lovely spot to enjoy good wine and food. I would love a spot like that. Given the feedback so far on this post, you are going to need a bigger table. 🙂

  11. ChgoJohn says:

    Every time I enter the produce aisles of the Italian market, I go straight to the area with the artichokes. When lucky, there are plenty of the smallest in their own display. What joy! It would be lovey to enjoy them al fresco but let’s not get carried away.

  12. Francesca says:

    have been missing your posts – they must have landed in some other basket of undesirable emails that never get read by mistake. So here you are, yearning for lovely summertime and not the bugs and eating artichokes. I think the French summertime would be far more clement that our version. I could put up with a few flies and wasps, just to sit under that French preau, sipping wine and talking nonsense.

  13. The artichokes look terrific, Roger, but I am with you – we are also stuck in this prelude to summer, and even proper spring, that should just get on with it already!

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