Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Artichokes, One for Three Dollars!*

purple Sicilian artichokes

An important part of our Jean-Talon Market ritual is a little move we like to call the L & N Shuffle. As the name suggests, if a little vaguely, this move involves a breezy visit to Chez Louis and Chez Nino on the south side of the market to inspect the very best in the city's produce. If there are two better greengrocers in Montreal we'd be surprised. If there are two better greengrocers that sit adjacent to each other in this town we'd be flabbergasted. It's rare that we find ourselves buying a lot when we go to either Chez Louis or Chez Nino--unless it's Meyer Lemon season--because most of what they have to offer is a bit out of our league, pricewise, but we love to waltz around their premises and just admire the merchandise. Some people like to go on inspection tours of places like Holt Renfrew or Birk's with their free time and ogle expensive clothes and extravagant jewelry, others get a similar thrill from visiting places like Chez Louis and Chez Nino. Not only do such visits get our pulses racing, but they can be downright educational too. It's not quite like a visit to the Montreal Botanical Gardens, but it's rare that I don't see something that's totally new to me.

We'd already taken advantage of the 3 bundles for $5 asparagus special out in front of Chez Louis, when we eyed their purple artichokes. We'd rarely seen vegetables so beautiful. They looked like a vision from one of those Chez Panisse lithographs or something. Problem was, we had no idea how much they'd cost. So we stepped inside, took a look at all the other goodies, and made our way to the second display of purple artichokes they had next to the counter. We asked the woman working the till how much they were, and when she told us $2.99 we decided to get some more details. $2.99 apiece is kind of steep for the likes of us, but these were king-sized artichokes and they had their stems on them, so we figured we might be able to get some mileage out of them as a centerpiece for our dining room table. And they were purple. Then she told us that they were known for having a deeper, richer flavor than their standard green counterparts, and that their customers had been raving about them all week, ever since they first arrived. That was all it took. Before we knew it, we were the proud owners of our very own pair of purple artichokes.

We let those artichokes brighten our dining room for a couple days in a big old mason jar (none of our other assorted vases could hold their big, thick stems), then the other night we decided to have them as the appetizer to our Mario Batali skirt steak special [more on this later--Michelle called dibs on this one]. We placed them in a saucepan filled with enough water so that the artichokes were partially submerged, we added a couple of squeezes of lemon juice to keep them from going from purple to brown on us, and we simmered them for 30 minutes. Then while they were simmering I made some fresh mayonnaise. I'd just finished grinding my first batch of homemade Dijon-style mustard [more on this later], and we had some big, beautiful farm-fresh eggs from the market in our fridge, so I figured making some mayonnaise was the only appropriate thing to do.

I consulted a few different mayonnaise recipes, then chose the one from The Gourmet Cookbook because it seemed the most optimistic (i.e. it didn't offer any pointers in case of eventualities, it just laid things out clearly and simply). If you're one of those people who equates mayonnaise with Kraft Mayo Real Mayonnaise or even Hellmann's you really need to make your own at least once in your lifetime. There's nothing like a freshly made batch of mayonnaise, and depending on how long you whisk it you can use it as a spread, a dip, or a sauce, and, hell, people have been making egg and oil-based sauces for at least 2,000 years now. 2,000 years of mayonnaise makers can't be wrong, can they?


1 large egg yolk, left at room temperature for 30 minutes
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp white pepper

Whisk together the yolk, the mustard, and the salt in a small bowl until everything is well combined. Add about 1/4 cup of the oil drop by drop, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to thicken. Whisk in the vinegar and the lemon juice, then add the remaining 1/2 cup of oil in a very slow, thin stream, whisking constantly until well blended. If at any time it appears that the oil is not being fully incorporated, stop the stream of oil and whisk the mixture vigorously until it is smooth, then continue adding the oil. Whisk in salt to tase and the white pepper. When your sauce is to the consistency that you like, refrigerate it, keeping the surface of the sauce covered with plastic wrap, until ready to use.

Makes about 1 cup of sauce. Takes about 10-15 minutes.

Well, no question about it, those were the very best artichokes I've ever had--so tender, so flavorful, with a depth to them that was truly impressive and even a rich nuttiness to the taste (like hazelnuts). We absolutely devoured them, leaf by leaf, making full use of that tangy mayonnaise, and then we reached the hearts. Truly sublime. So good, in fact, I'm planning on going back to Chez Louis as soon as I can for some more. If they weren't so expensive, I'd buy a bunch, grill some of them, and preserve the rest in oil. At that price, though, I'm happy to just steam them and savor them.

Chez Louis, 222 Place du Marché-du-Nord, 277-4670
Chez Nino, 192 Place-du-Marché-du-Nord, 277-8902


* For some reason, I've never been able to shake a joke I was told once when I was in grade school--it was fourth grade, if I'm not mistaken--the punchline of which was the sordid headline from a tabloidy newspaper: "Artie Chokes Three For A Dollar!"


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip. (My heroes!) I think I'm gonna go get one right now. Nothing could be better on a day like this, methinks. (Also, I want a bookmark. No, two. For tour. You have my address already, I think?)
Love, C.

Anonymous said...

Aw AJ,
We're missing a decent vegetable market here! Can't find any good fresh artichokes around, at any price, whether purple or green!
Was that a dry-rub skirt-steak you had with the artichokes?? Man, that must have been a deeply religious-like experience! I'm salivating all over the keyboard!
Good post!
Alexis in Ottawa

aj kinik said...

hi C,
you won't be disappointed, and, about those bookmarks, we've put a couple aside for you...

hi Alexis,
Sorry about that. Aren't there any serious Italian grocers in Ottawa? As for the skirt steak: actually it was the grilled skirt steak with grilled vegetables and salsa verde. Damn fine. Hopefully Michelle will get a chance to post about it today. We'll see...