The artichoke is a popular herbaceous perennial widely used in cooking: you either love it or you hate it. Both varieties, with or without thorns, become gradually sweeter as you make your way towards the tender white heart. An immature flower bud from the thistle family, we tend to see globe artichokes most commonly on sale in our supermarkets. There are also other variants, of course, including purple versions, baby artichokes and, not forgetting, earthy Jerusalem artichokes. Artichokes are also low in fat, while rich in fibre, vitamins, mineral and antioxidants. They’re particularly high in folic acid, and vitamins C and K.
The biggest challenge lies in finding the right wine pairing but you also have to be careful when teaming it up with other ingredients.
The problem lies in a chemical substance called cynarin which is naturally contained in artichokes. Our wine pairing “foe” is responsible for the sweetish, bitter and metallic sensations that emerge, according to the way in which artichokes are cooked and served. However, it also has a quality: it makes everything we eat after artichokes taste sweet. Here’s how to tackle it.
- With its ideal companions garlic, onion and shallot, ingredients with sulphurous notes. Try boiled artichoke hearts accompanied with a shallot vinaigrette. It is difficult to find an artichoke recipe without garlic.
- With all types of dairy products. One of the perfect pairings. From melted butter to goat’s cheese in different phases of maturity. It also teams up well with creamy sauces, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, feta and pecorino cheese. These are perfect for oven-baked artichokes stuffed with garlic, parsley and pecorino cheese.
- With mushrooms. No matter how unoriginal this may seem, artichokes and mushrooms, when pan tossed with oil, garlic and parsley, make a perfect match. The earthiness and umami taste of mushrooms are enhanced and fortified by the presence of artichoke.
- The sweet and slightly wild taste of lamb well lends itself to a marriage with artichoke hearts. So do other animal proteins, such as chicken or eggs.
- With aromatic herbs such as thyme, parsley, basil and Roman mint. Slight hints of menthol counterbalance the bitter notes.
- With the creamy textures and delicious richness of accompaniments like hollandaise sauce and mayonnaise, as well as all of the smoky aromas associated with scamorza cheese or eel which team up well with the hazelnut aftertaste of artichokes.
- The most luxurious pairing is with foie gras and truffles, which make a sumptuous stuffing. As conceived by three-starred chef Guy Savoy whose signature dishes include a soup called artichaut à la truffe noir.
- Cinnamon and liquorice. The anethol contents of liquorice and cinnamon join forces to enhance the sweetness of any ingredient they encounter.
- Shellfish and oysters. With clams and shellfish in general, because their brackish notes contribute to mitigating the bitter part of cynarin and to enhancing its sweeter side. The brackish notes of oysters give a further boost to this bitter-sweet effect.
- Chocolate, bitter with bitter, followed by something sweet.
- Ginger which brings together citrus notes and piquancy, with lemon, orange and lime.
Top chefs pairings
One of the best things to taste, in its simplicity, is a family recipe described by Nadine Levy Redzepi: parboiled artichokes served with a mayonnaise of Dijon mustard and herbs, shallots, capers, chives, sage and tarragon. Instead, horn of plenty mushrooms, artichokes and black truffle is an enticing dish created by chef Dominique Crenn: an extraordinary concentration of aromas and earthiness.
Among Italian chefs, Niko Romito and one of his signature dishes, artichoke with rosemary, have made culinary history. The entire dish is based on three ingredients: water, artichoke and rosemary resin. The artichoke is steamed, while an authentic distillation of artichoke is obtained from the stem and the external leaves with an addition of rosemary resin. Here we have the basics of a sauce used to varnish the artichoke. Romito explains: “When you take an artichoke to the point of total extraction by going straight to its heart, it reveals notes reminiscent of anchovy and liquorice: they seem to be added but, in actual fact they were only concealed. When I explain to my clients that I add nothing, they are amazed."
These artichoke recipes should spark some creativity in your kitchen: Jerusalem artichokes pair well with seafood, as shown by this clam chowder recipe devised by a couple of top Brazilian chefs. Artichoke tarte tatin is a savoury twist on a French classic that brings out all the flavour of the artichoke and makes a perfect brunch dish. Finally, proving that sweet artichokes and eggs are a match made in heaven, these salmon and artichoke quiches are a delicious healthy appetiser.