Recipe: Artichokes à la Barigoule with Ras el Hanout
The artichoke looks complicated, like an elaborate multitiered dress that might take some time getting into but would ultimately be worth the trouble. Plus it’s got spikes. Can’t beat that. And its taste is like . . . what is it like? It’s both subtle and assertive, a strange combination. That’s another part of its allure.
Weird weather patterns in the western U.S. have proven beneficial for artichokes this year. There are lots of the big globes around, a glut, I guess, but I’m also seeing those sometimes hard to find “babies.” They aren’t really babies; they’re actually more like midgets. They’re full-grown, just small incidental growths that pop up lower on the stalk. A few days ago I found really nice ones, heavy for their size, solid, cute. And so easy to prep. No chokes. Hardly any waste. I just pulled off a few tough outer leaves, trimmed the tops, and cooked them whole. So pretty.
Artichokes à la barigoule is a dish that has always fascinated me. I like slow-cooked vegetables that soak up flavors as they soften. This preparation turns up in many of the Provençal cookbooks I own—Olney, of course, but over and over in many others. It’s a classic in French Mediterranean cooking but not often found in bistros around here. I’m not sure why. It’s delicious, gentle but deeply satisfying, like the artichoke itself. Barigoule is essentially a braise, with wine and stock, often finished with a splash of acid, such as a good vinegar. Most recipes contain carrots and fennel and spring herbs. Chervil, parsley, dill, fennel tops.
I love ras el hanout, the North African spice mix that’s used often in couscous dishes. It varies from region to region and from shop to shop. You can find it premixed at Middle Eastern food shops, such as Kalustyan’s here in Manhattan. I like to make my own, and that often varies too. Right now I’m using a mix of anise, fennel, allspice, cardamom (I love cardamom), clove, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, and ginger. Some versions contain rose petal, dried thyme, or bay leaf. I use ras le hanout as a dry rub for lamb and chicken and in some tagines. Lately I’ve been adding it to vegetables. It’s excellent with eggplant and tomatoes, as well with as artichokes. I do restrain myself, though, including just a hint, so it slips into my Italian and French Mediterranean dishes without tipping the balance to out and out North African cooking.
Artichokes à la Barigoule with Ras el Hanout
(Serves 4 as a first course)
The juice from 1 lemon
2 dozen or so baby artichokes
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon piment d’Espelette or another medium hot paprika
½ teaspoon ras el hanout
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds on an angle
1 tender inner celery stalk, thinly sliced, plus the leaves from a few stalks
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
The leaves from 4 big sprigs of thyme
A splash of dry vermouth
1½ cups or so light chicken broth
A few drops of Spanish sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
A handful of chervil
Set up a bowl of cold water, and add the lemon juice. Trim the tough outer leaves off of the artichokes until you get down to the lighter green ones. Trim the tops and bottoms off of the artichokes. Drop the artichokes into the water.
In a skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the artichokes, piment d’Espellete, ras el hanout, shallot, carrots, and celery (but not the leaves), seasoning with a little salt. Sauté until the artichokes take on a little color and everything is just starting to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and the thyme leaves, sautéing just to release their fragrances, about a minute. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a minute. Add the chicken broth, turn the heat down a drop, and simmer at a low bubble, uncovered, until the artichokes are just fork tender, about 12 to 15 minutes (you’ll want to turn them around in the broth from time to time so they cook evenly). There should still be a fair amount of slightly thickened liquid in the skillet.
Add a few drops of the vinegar, the butter, and the celery leaves, and give it all a stir. Scatter the chervil over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.