Artichokes frustrate me. And not for the reason that most wine drinkers might assume. (More about that later.)
They frustrate me because I really love the way they look, and the way they taste, but I simply cannot master them in my own kitchen. In fact, the last time that I tried to peel those thorny leaves and carve out the choke and salvage the heart, all the while dunking in lemony water, was really the last time I’ll try it. Say what you will, but I cannot seem to find that magical stopping point that eliminates all the fibrous, unpleasant choke and leaves a lovely, in tact heart. (And all that lemon totally stings my fingers where the thorny leaves have pricked me.) So until some life changing gadget comes along—like the stick blender that reopened the world of pureed soups to me after I had made one mess too many pouring hot liquid back and forth into a regular blender—fresh artichokes will be purely decorative items in my home.
The good news is that I’m pretty pleased with good quality frozen and canned artichoke hearts, as with this riff on a barigoule — a traditional Provençal dish featuring braised artichokes. It was inspired by a recipe I spotted in the February, 2009 issue of Food & Wine that used an artichoke and chickpea base for sautéed cod fillets. I tweaked the proportions and ingredients a bit for this easy, satisfying main course version that is perfect for a weeknight supper. Some warm crusty bread and a slathering of good butter doesn’t hurt a thing — I used a delicious sourdough whole wheat studded with black olives. (Speaking of butter, the small amount of butter in the recipe below adds a nice richness to the dish, but it can easily be omitted for a vegan version. Just double-up on the olive oil.)
Pairing: Grüner Veltliner
Oh, the copy space that has been devoted to the tribulations of pairing artichokes with wine… Here’s the skinny — artichokes contain a compound called cynarin that can make wine taste really odd. Kinda sweeter, kinda flatter. But it’s not that tough to overcome. Simply head for the high acid, low oak white wines — they tend to be able to stand up to artichokes with minimal adverse flavor effects. But don’t rule out reds all together. So much depends on the other ingredients in the dish, the rest of the meal, etc. And I’ve heard of a tradition in the south of France of locals pouring a slosh of their red wine into bowls of artichoke (or asparagus) soup. So that is all to say, I think these high acid, low/no oak whites are a good place to start, but don’t feel like it’s the only option.
Grüner Veltliner is the most commonly planted grape variety in Austria, and typically makes a dry white wine with refreshing acidity and a peppery or spicy kick to the stone fruit flavors. It’s a great salad wine — working with vinaigrettes better than other wines in the same way that it can work with artichokes.
Domäne Wachau 2011 Grüner Veltliner Wachau Terrassen Federspiel ($15). Enchanting little wine at a great price, with elegant orange blossom aromas introducing racy citrus, stone fruit, pear and lime peel flavors. Find it!
Laurenz Five 2010 Grüner Veltliner Trocken Niederösterreich Laurenz und Sophie Singing ($15). Does indeed sing — with crisp apple and lemon, concentrated finish, and a nice white pepper kick. Find it!
Recipe: Artichoke and Chickpea Barigoule
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small white onion, sliced 1/2-inch thick
14-ounce can artichoke hearts packed in water, drained and pressed dry
1/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps quartered
2 small carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
14-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup vegetable stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons snipped chives
In a large skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the onion, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, carrots and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 7-10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer over low heat until the vegetables are tender and the liquid is nearly evaporated, 5-10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and squeeze lemon juice over, stir to combine. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serves 2 generously as a main course. (Warmed up leftovers are delicious the next day, by the way!)