Charred artichokes with a fennel and tarragon aioli
The artichoke is a thistle, a noble thistle, there is something wonderfully Jurassic about it – it has been around since the 8th century BC so that does explain slightly its ancient appearance. It was the aristocrat of the Renaissance kitchen garden, as the asparagus was that of the Romans. Its humbling to think that they are still two of the finest vegetables we can grow. Nothing that we have developed since comes near them for delicious flavour or elegant form. The artichoke above all is the vegetable expression of civilised living, to be eaten slowly with delight as each leaf is dipped into an indulgent buttery sauce and delicately nibbled. We love this about the artichoke, making us all slow down, enjoying each other’s company while tippling away at something fine. That is how summer evenings should be, sitting outside enjoying the deep golden rays with your feet up, to take a deep breath and let the stress of the day float away. There are a few general points that apply when preparing an artichoke. Unless they are tightly closed, soak them upside down in salted water for an hour to dislodge earth or insects. The second is to keep a lemon at hand and to rub immediately over any cut surfaces before they blacken. And lastly always remove the choke if serving a prepared artichoke – the fuzzy part in the middle that’s just above the heart (its too fibrous to eat and can cause one to choke!). There are many ways to prepare and enjoy the intriguing artichoke, one of our easy cheats is to buy a jar of the pre prepared artichoke hearts, get a pan very hot with a little oil and try them till they are deliciously crispy, then add to a salad with freshly sliced fennel, capers and dill. This dish we often serve as a nibble with drinks before supper or as a first course – its one to share, to get your figures messy and enjoy the beauty of it all (keep a few bowls of water on the table so you can clean your fingers if needed). The most popular was is to steam it whole, pull off leaf one by one then take out the choke oneself and devour the heart within. We though like the smokiness that’s added by charring it in a hot oven, or placing on the BBQ.