Archive for August, 2011

At the market in Brittany | Artichokes

21 August 2011

I don’t know how better to describe a field of artichokes than as a shimmering sea of silver green plants growing dinosaur eggs – they are at once beautiful and funny.

Because somehow it’s hard to take an artichoke entirely seriously. The legendary French comedian Coluche famously derided artichokes as “the only dish that, when you finish eating it, there’s more on your plate than when you started.”

When we eat an artichoke, we eat the bud of a domesticated thistle, cynara scolymus, which comes from the Mediterranean and dislikes frost. It is therefore ideally suited to the mild maritime climate of Brittany, where it is never terribly cold and – have I mentioned this before? – rarely particularly hot.

While the artichoke bud is still very small, the whole head is edible. Later, as pictured above and described below, it is still a bud but only the fleshy part of the leaves and the heart can be eaten.

To eat a globe artichoke you pluck a leaf, scrape the flesh gently but firmly with the bottom front teeth, discard the leaf, and repeat, working your way toward the tender heart. The very soft central leaves can practically be eaten whole, then onto the choke – the inedible part called “hay” in French, to describe its prickly quality. The choke must be removed carefully to reveal the heart, which most consider the prized part of the artichoke, though most children find eating the leaves much more fun.


Steamed globe artichokes with butter lemon sauce

Traditionally artichoke leaves are often dipped in a simple vinaigrette or a hollandaise sauce, but in my opinion this simple butter lemon sauce far surpasses both.

1 artichoke per person

2 Tbsps butter per artichoke

1/2 lemon per artichoke

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a pot large enough to hold all the artichokes, bring 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm) of water to boil.

Just before using, cut the stems flush off the artichoke. **If this is done in advance, rub some lemon on the bottom so the artichoke doesn’t oxidize.**

Place the artichokes in the pot. **It is also possible to use a steamer, but not necessary. The bottom artichokes will touch the water slightly but the result is the same.**

Steam the artichokes for about 40-45 minutes. The artichokes are cooked when an outer leaf peels off easily and a knife slides into the heart (bottom part) of the artichoke.

For the sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan, squeeze in the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and stir well. Taste and adjust with more lemon juice if desired.

To serve, place one artichoke on each plate with the sauce in a little pot on the side, and a large bowl on the table for the discarded leaves.


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Mussels with shallots and white wine

In Brittany | Kouign Amann from Au Four St Melaine bakery in Morlaix

At the market | Rhubarb [Compote recipe]

At the market | Quinces


In Brittany | Home baked potato fries

8 August 2011

Although we are in Brittany and I don’t believe fries are the traditional Breton accompaniment for mussels, it seems this famous Belgian pairing has anchored itself so steadfastly in our subconscious that anytime I (we) think of mussels, I (we) think fries. So when we prepared mussels the other day, the other half of the meal seemed obvious.

It was the first time I made really good home-baked fries and I think it was thanks to a tip from my sister who suggested starting them low and slow so they would cook through without burning or drying out.

They were great.



Good olive oil

Flaky sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper



Preheat oven to 300F (150C).

Cut the potatoes in half lengthways, place each half cut side down, and slice into 1/2 inch (1 cm) pieces. Wash the potato pieces in cold water and pat thoroughly dry with a (clean) kitchen towel.

Place the potatoes on a large shallow oven pan. Drizzle generously with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and sprigs of rosemary. Toss so all the pieces of potato are dressed with the olive oil.

Put in the low oven and cook for about 20 to 25 minutes. When the potatoes seem cooked through, increase the oven temperature to 425F (220C) and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until gold and crisp.

Check for salt seasoning, adjust, and serve hot.


Related posts

In Brittany | Mussels with shallots and white wine

At the market in Brittany | Artichokes

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