Ask Tog, October, 1998
Cream of Artichoke Soup
Once a year, I take to the kitchen for a couple of evenings to whip up a vat of artichoke soup. Then I put it in glass bottles and take it around to family and very close personal friends. Even though there is a fair amount of work that goes into its preparation, there is nothing particularly difficult or tricky about it, and you will be rewarded with a truly wonderful eating experience.
|1/2 pound of butter
||12 medium artichokes
|1 tablespoon chopped onion
||1 cup heavy cream
|1 cup all-purpose flour
||Salt & pepper
|1/2 gallon milk
||Croutons fried in butter
|salt, pepper & nutmeg
Wait for artichokes to be on sale or at a seasonally low price. You can buy ones that have been browned with frostbite: the flavor is unaffected and you won't be serving the leaves anyway. You can substitute enough frozen artichokes to make around 4 cups of finished artichoke pulp, but it will be lacking in the more subtle flavors.
Wash the artichokes and trim the stems to around 1" in length. Drop the artichokes in a large kettle of water to which you've added at least 1/4 teaspoon salt per artichoke. You don't have to cook them all at once, or even on the same day. Just do it as you have time and energy.
Cook the artichokes until they are very well done: 35 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes, depending on the size of the chokes. A fork should glide in the stem end of the artichoke with no effort. This longer-than-normal cooking period will make "field stripping" them later on a simple task.
Cool the artichokes or store in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the soup.
"Field-stripping" an Artichoke
It takes a good 5 to 10 minutes of concerted effort to eat an artichoke at the dinner table, making artichokes a diet food of sortsI mean, how many can you eat? The following method of field-stripping artichokes will reduce that time to 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove and discard the small leaves at the base of the choke. Pull off the large outer leaves in hunksabout three or four hunks per artichoke. Don't worry about the heart coming apart. If this should occur, just set the heart aside. Lay each hunk of outer leaves down on a wooden cutting board or large, flat plate. With the back of a large spoon, gently squeeze all the pulp free from the fleshy end of the leaves.
When the outer leaves are cleaned, move onto the inner leaves, taken as a group. Remove the hard center leaves and gently chop away the fleshy part from the bottom of the inner leaves, still using the spoon. (The spoon will not be sharp enough to cut through any of the fibrous parts of the choke. When the spoon stops chopping, you're done.)
Remove and discard the choke: the hard innermost leaves and the soft fluff that clings to the heart and would have eventually turned into this thistle's beautiful purple bloom.
Pile the heart and pulp together on a separate plate on go onto the next choke.
Repeat until done.
Use a heavy metal frying pan (not cast iron). Melt the butter and add the onion. Cook over moderate heat until the onion just begins to become translucent. Add all the flour at once and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Cook only until the mixture turns a pale gold. Keep the heat low so that it doesn't turn brown.
Transfer the mixture to a 1 gallon, heavy pot and add the milk. Stir well and put the pot on the stove over moderate heat, stirring until the mixture thickens. (It will not be very thickremember, we are making a soupbut you will notice a definite difference.) Season well with salt and lots of pepper.
Blender method: Put the artichoke pulp into the blender. Add enough of the milk mixture so that the blender will work smoothly. Blend on high speed for at least 30 seconds.
Food mill method: pass the artichoke through the food mill.
Food Processor method: Prepare as with the blender, but strain the result through a sieve at the end to filter out any remaining fiber.
Add the artichoke pulp and the cream to the milk mixture, stirring well. Season to taste. If you are serving it immediately, reheat.
The soup can be frozen, or you can keep it refrigerated for a week to 10 days. If anything, it seems to get better with age. If you want to serve it at a dinner party, feel free to prepare it several days in advance.
Makes 14 cups