Getting to the Heart of the Matter (Ammended Text)
By the time you read this, we will have filmed one segment of House Hunters International Episode (my 41st show) in my living room with the “contributor,” Jordan Washington. It’s just Jordan and me for this episode and it promises to be a whole lot of fun to film as Jordan is a professional dancer/choreography and teacher with a yen for hats. I won’t spoil it for you how that information about him plays out in the show! Stay tuned.
Fortunately, the producers allowed me the time to clean up and regroup this morning after my annual Artichoke Day Dinner last night. This is possibly the only time all year long that I will have cooked and actually used the dishwasher. This one was my 22nd edition because we can’t count the first one in 1997 that was supposed to take place but never did.
Every year I write about the event, so perhaps you’re already bored with the story? If not, it’s a story about freedom. Much like Passover, it’s a tale of an Exodus from a life of conflict that five artichokes helped facilitate. The story is the opening chapter in the memoir I’ve been writing for the last four years which will come to fruition one of these days, but if you want to learn more about it, you can visit our archives and look for the issues following February 2nd.
As every year, eight people circled my table. Friends who came to dinner hailed from Paris, Nice, Provence, and even Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s a holiday the group has come to love and count on. In order for my small table to fit eight, I have a black painted wooden round table topper that doubles as my headboard when not in use on the table. Easy to lift out (with one person on each side) and set on top of my smaller glass dining table, it’s a quick answer to a storage and space problem. But that’s the limit: eight. The idea to turn the topper into a headboard came from a visiting friend from my college years — quite a brilliant solution for something that otherwise would have been an albatross with nowhere to store it. As it sits behind the bed 99.99% of the year, you’d never guess it was really a tabletop! (That’s one time out of 365 days.)
The recipe for the artichokes is basically Italian. They steam for one hour and then dressed and marinated for hours to become completely impregnated with olive oil, vinegars (wine, white and balsamic), and spices (garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper). My mother made them this way. Even though she wasn’t Italian, she was a New Orleanian and therefore Italian by osmosis. I believe, that for the most part, New Orleans’ cuisine culture comes from the Italians who immigrated there and brought with them their zest for life and food, even way more than the French. No offense to the French, however, we New Orleanians have the French to thank for bringing artichokes to Louisiana when they settled there in the early 1800s. Later that century, they were brought to California by the Spaniards.
A thistle of the sunflower family, they are native to the Mediterranean and Canary Islands. While they grow year-round, spring and fall are their best seasons, and even though there are 140 or more varieties, less than 40 are grown for sale and consumption. France, Italy, and Spain can be proud of their artichoke production, but 100% of U.S. artichokes are grown in California. Castroville in Monterey County is the “The Artichoke Center of the World” (or so they say) and holds the annual Castroville Artichoke Festival every May or June.
The history of the artichoke goes way back before the French brought them to Louisiana. In fact, a Greek philosopher a few hundred centuries before Christ wrote about them being grown in Italy and Sicily. Ancient Greeks and Romans not only thought of them as a delicacy, but as an aphrodisiac, and thought that eating them would produce more sons. In the 16th-century, eating artichokes was reserved for only men because of their so-called power to enhance the sexual appetite. That may have been why California producers named Marilyn Monroe as the first official California Artichoke Queen in 1949. (LOL)
There is a dispute about the origins of the name “artichoke,” for what is their scientific classification: Genus – Cynara, Species – C. cardunculus, Variety – C. c. var. scolymus. Some suggest the name comes from the northern Italian words articiocco and articoclos, a term that comes from the Ligurian word cocali, meaning a pine cone. However, other sources claim it comes from the Arab, “al’qarshuf” rather than from the Latin, “cynara.” It doesn’t really matter to me what they are called, they taste as good. There are lots of tales to tell about the artichoke, but I’m just happy that they made it to my table.
ARTICHOKE DAY ARTICHOKES, A RECIPE BY ADRIAN LEEDS
Prepare the artichokes: cut off the stem, chop off the top of the artichoke and trim the points of each leaf with scissors. Wash and place them in a big pot or covered roasting pan with a small amount of water in the bottom. Cover and steam: Steam them on low to medium heat for at least 1 hour, more or less depending on the thickness of the leaves.
Meanwhile, prepare the dressing*: 1/3 vinegar and spices, 2/3 olive oil — mix a variety of vinegars (I like Balsamic, red wine, white, apple cider) with salt, pepper, one teaspoon of sugar, lots of oregano, and tons of chopped garlic (never enough!). Be heavy-handed with the spices. Then, add olive oil. Shake or stir well.
*Note: the dressing is to your taste…so be creative!
The final step before serving: When the artichokes are steamed to perfection, drain off the water and pour the dressing over them while they’re hot, ensuring that the dressing is filling the leaves. Cover them to keep warm and then marinate them with the dressing as often as you can for as long as you can. I use a turkey baster to do the job. Eight hours is best. (Be prepared: the aroma will fill your home delightfully.)
Voila! They’re ready to serve and eat at room temperature.
Eating: pull one leaf off at a time and with your teeth, scrape off the artichoke pulp. Discard the scraped leaf in a nearby bowl. Keep up this process until there are no leaves left, leaving only the choke and the heart. (THIS IS THE BEST PART!) Be sure to remove the choke (otherwise you’ll choke!) and then savor the heart…every morsel.
BTW, the reason I made nine with only eight guests is…you guessed it! The last remaining artichoke was for me to savor the next day, naturally! And so I will.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. House Hunters International fans..we’re happy to announce our newest episode will air this coming Friday, February 7th, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. EDT on HGTV. You can find more details by following this link to HGTV’s website (If the information is not on the site, have patience, it will be!)
P.P.S. FOR RENT ONE MONTH: La Greneta – bright, two bedrooms, two bathrooms in the trendy Montorgueil neighborhood (2nd arrondissement)…book it last minute and save 15% for one month, available from now through March 15th — 3,150€. Visit paris-sharing.com/la-greneta/ for more information and to book your long-term stay! Or email [email protected]