How can I put this … ? …I love going to London. Now, when you’ve heard me extolling Athens and my love of all things Greek, you may wonder what’s going on here – but one of the things I really love about London, is the element of surprise, the element of, at any given moment, coming across the truly unexpected. Now this can come in many, many forms but this time it came in the form of a vegetable.
The perfection of Greek cuisine is that vegetable are not always a side-line – not a ‘walk on part’ – they can be the most important part of the dish. These vegetables are relished and welcomed when they come back into season, like a veteran star in a new role. Vegetables do not have to be virtuous and gloomy, they can be a positive pleasure.
We have been visiting our first-born this weekend, in London. A phone call whilst we were en route brought about an additional feeling of excitement.
“I’m in the fruit and veg shop at Newington Green – they’ve got those small artichokes – should I get some?”
The artichoke is the gorgeous daughter of a rather curious family – the artichoke is really a thistle – and even this line of the family can come in many forms. I am not a fan of the large, corpulent globe variety. There is too much ‘choke’ and not enough of the delicate soft flesh at the centre. My favourite is this, the slim, vibrant variety with tourmaline hues.
In Greece, there are many ways to cook artichokes. In the islands, the tiny, tiny early buds are eaten as street food – raw with salt. The slightly bigger ones can be braised with early, tender broad beans or peas. The sauce can sometimes be complemented with the addition of a few skinned, chopped tomatoes – but the best is the most simple; a little water, a little lemon juice and a significant amount of that essential ingredient – olive oil. With the addition of some fragrant chopped dill, this is one of the most elegant and most subtle of dishes.
So, in my son’s kitchen in De Beauvoir Town today, I chose to cook our artichokes ‘City Style’ – ‘Politikés’ – meaning ‘as they would be cooked in The City’ – in Constantinople – but for us, this time, the city was London.
Artichokes ‘City Style’ – Anginarés Politikés
6 small artichokes – the frozen artichoke hearts (available at ethnic supermarkets) are also an alternative. (See ‘Hints and Practicalities’ for how to prepare the fresh ones)
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
3 – 4 medium carrots
5 – 6 smallish new potatoes
5 – 6 small shallot onions
Juice of 2 lemons
150ml good olive oil
Salt and pepper
500ml warm water
Have ready a bowl of fresh water and add the juice of one of the lemons and a desert spoonful of salt. First of all prepare the artichokes. Remove several of the outer leaves, until the pale inner ones can be seen. Slice off the tip of the bud. As you prepare each of the artichokes, place them in the bowl of lemon/salt water. This stops them turning brown.
Now chop the onion and peel the carrots, potatoes and shallots. Cut the carrots into thick slices and halve the potatoes.
Blanch the shallots in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and set aside.
Drain the artichokes and squeeze slightly to remove any of the soaking liquid.
In a large casserole heat 2 – 3 table spoonfuls of olive oil , put in the chopped onion and soften until translucent but not too brown.
Now add the shallots, turning them in the oil for a few minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes and artichokes, again turning them in the warm oil for a few minutes.
Add the warm water, juice of half a lemon, 2 tablespoonfuls of chopped dill, the remaining olive oil, salt and pepper.
Simmer on a medium to low heat for about 35 – 40 minutes. Check the seasoning – some more lemon juice and salt (and perhaps olive oil) may be needed. The sauce should have reduce and thickened. Finish with a few more fronds of fresh dill
Serve with crusty bread.