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..
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.