Artichokes have a long history in global cuisine. Ancient civilizations ate the artichoke’s distant relative, the cardoon, and what we now think of as the artichoke first appeared on menus during the Middle Ages. The Spanish attempted to introduce cardoons to Florida during the 16th century, but they didn’t become a major American crop until Italian immigrants introduced artichokes to California during the late 18th century, and have been associated with that state ever since. In both cases, growing artichokes and cardoons were an attempt by immigrants to bring classic Old World cuisine to their new homelands.
The artichoke is actually the bud of a giant thistle, harvested before it blooms. To this day, the bulk of American-grown artichokes are grown in California. They have never been terribly popular in this country. Their outer leaves are largely inedible and the center “chokes” consist of bitter filaments, taking more time to prepare than most home cooks are willing to commit. So, when artichokes began appearing on restaurant menus in California at the end of the 19th century, they were an expensive treat enjoyed by the higher echelons of society.
Artichokes Barigoule appeared on the menu of San Francisco’s illustrious Palace Hotel as early as 1879. Helen Evans Brown published the recipe in her historic 1952 West Coast Cook Book. Barigoule is a classic French Provençal preparation of artichokes which involves stuffing them with a mushroom forcemeat and braising them in wine or broth. Today, you’ll see Artichokes Barigoule on menus stuffed with any number of things including cheese, spinach, ground pork, or bread crumbs, but mushroom forcemeats like the recipe below are traditional.
TIPS AND TRICKS
Preparing an artichoke is one of the more challenging culinary preparations. The leaves are tough and the fibrous choke must be carefully and completely removed to avoid a sickening bitter taste permeating the dish.
Use a sharp chef’s knife to chop off the top of the artichoke, exposing the choke. Use a metal spoon to scoop out the choke into a bowl and be careful that the choke fibers don’t end up getting into any of the other food. You can rinse out artichoke to clean out any remaining fibers.
A good pair of kitchen scissors will help you trim the leaves. While the recipe below suggests dunking them in “acidulated water” after trimming the leaves, you can achieve the same result by rubbing the artichoke with lemon juice. This helps prevent browning. Alternatively you can use 1/4 cup lemon juice to two cups of water.
A forcemeat can be created by passing all of the ingredients into a meat grinder, or alternatively spinning them in a food processor. For a chunkier result, you can chop all the ingredients finely and mix them together by hand.
These are a beautiful labor of love, perfect as a starter for an impressive at-home dinner or on its own for an elaborate but light lunch. While preparation does get faster the more you do it, it is easy to see why artichokes haven’t become a more popular vegetable outside those creamy “spinach artichoke” appetizers so popular today. Just as it was a century ago, preparing this dish for guests is a sign that you care and that you’re willing to go the extra mile to create an experience for them.
And eating artichokes IS an experience – there is a ritual to it akin to the making of a nice pot of tea. Starting from the outside and working your way in, you peal away at the leaves, perhaps dipping them in a bit of melted butter, and you scrape the little morsels of soft artichoke flesh into your mouth with the backs of your teeth. Dipping once in awhile to the meat and mushroom stuffing provides a complimentary flavor and texture that leads you down, finally, to the artichoke heart waiting at the bottom. Much like its preparation, the eating of Artichokes Barigoules takes time. It is leisurely and indulgent, and perfect for those meals where nobody is in a hurry.
Palace Hotel’s “Artichokes Barigoule” from Helen Brown’s West Coast Cook Book (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1952)
4 slices bacon
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/2 cup minced mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced parsley
salt and pepper
1/2 cup stock or wine
Trim and boil 4 artichokes for 5 minutes, drain, and remove chokes, then put in cold acidulated water. Make a forcemeat with 4 slices of minced bacon, 1/4 cup of minced shallots, 1/2 cup of minced mushrooms, a tablespoon of minced parsley, salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg. Stuff the artichokes, tie a string around each to keep the filling in, and brown on all sides in olive oil. Add 1/2 cup of stock or wine, or a combination of the two, and bake until tender. Remove strings before serving to four persons.