Sunday, November 4, 2007

of basil and lemon and pomegranates, and artichokes and queens

Though I wrote about buying produce and discovering incredible falafel at Haymarket, it occurs to me that I haven't mentioned what we cooked last night. So. Here's a question: what do you get when you leave the Basil Queen and the Popcorn Ball Princess in a kitchen with ten artichokes, eight lemons, two pomegranates, and a bushel of basil?

A. Really sour artichoke stew.
B. A regrettable attempt at trendy salad.
C. Artichoke-lemon-pomegranate-basil pesto.
D. None of the above.

The answer, fortunately, is D. We're not that crazy. We made steamed artichokes with sharp lemon hollandaise, angel hair pasta dressed with basil-almond pesto, and basil puree to freeze for the winter. The pomegranates we saved to eat plain. We were joined in our feasting by Matt, who contributed a nice Australian chardonnay to the repast.*

(Sorry, no photos. I forgot to ask Matt to bring his camera, and Bella has lost hers.)

Strictly speaking, it is not prime artichoke season. Artichokes are at their best during the beginning of spring. They are harvested in mid-autumn, however, and when you love artichokes as much as I do, you won't think twice about what you're having for dinner when you see a stall selling five for $2. The only question will be whether or not you have a pot large enough to steam ten of them at once.

I find that artichokes make for fantastic snacking - I lived in a co-op during my senior year of college, and when I wrote my honors thesis, I'd often kick off an all-nighter by getting out the steamer basket. I usually eat them plain, but I know most people like them with sauce.

If you're going to go to the trouble of making sauce for your artichokes, you might as well go the whole hog and make hollandaise. Classic hollandaise is delicate and creamy with a slight lemony flavor - and this is what you want if you're making eggs Benedict or poached sole - but for artichokes, I like something sharper.

Really Sharp Non-Classic Lemon Hollandaise

I learned to make lemon curd before I learned to make hollandaise sauce, and I tend to think of it as being a bit like lemon curd without the sugar. This is modelled directly on a lemon curd recipe from Gourmet, and effectively flips the flavor profile of classic hollandaise. Instead of "buttery, with a tang," it's "zing, tempered by butter."

(Not a recipe for one. It doesn't reheat very well. This probably makes enough for fourteen or sixteen artichokes.)

Juice enough fresh lemons to produce one third of a cup of lemon juice. Top off with enough tarragon white wine vinegar to make a half cup of liquid. Set aside. Get three-quarters of a stick of chilled butter (six tablespoons) and cut it into six pieces. Set aside.

Take two eggs and two egg yolks, and whisk them in a bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Add the lemon-vinegar mixture bit by bit. Keep whisking, and remove the bowl from heat if it looks like you might be in danger of making scrambled eggs. Eventually, sometime after your arm has gone numb, the mixture will start to thicken. Remove from heat when the whisk leaves a trail in the sauce. Whisk in the butter one piece at a time, until fully incorporated. Add a little salt to taste.

Serve immediately with artichokes. It's also nice over grilled salmon.

*Artichokes do things to the tastebuds. Water tastes sweeter, as does wine. This is very bad for red wine, but not quite as awful for white. The wine Matt brought, an unoaked chardonnay from Wishing Tree, was pretty forgiving.

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