Allan and I like to get in the car and just drive into the countryside at some time during the weekend. Destination drives are nice, but it’s really just being out there, seeing Tunisians going about their production, that is so interesting and settling. We store up episodes of the new season of the Serial podcast and get deeply lost in that strange and fascinating tale while we are driving.
Today, the roadsides, on the road to Raf Raf, were presenting artichokes and pumpkins. You can see that our pumpkins, here, are not the bright orange Halloween varieties we have in the U.S. I think these are a French heirloom variety called Fairy Tale. The connection is that they look like they could be turned into Cinderella’s coach. They aren’t beautiful to look at, but they are very flavorful, with not too much moisture, and they are durable. We have whole pumpkins in the markets here year around.
We brought home some pumpkins, but we worked with the artichokes this afternoon. Peeling and trimming a good potful, I then braised them. Braising is a technique where ingredients are sauteed in olive oil until they release some sugars and begin to caramelize. This works the same for meats and vegetables. Then, liquid is added, such as water, wine or stock, to cover the ingredient by about 2/3. The dish is covered with a tight-fitting lid or foil and cooked low and slow. Whether it goes into the oven or on the stove top, the heat must be low enough that the braise is barely bubbling. It cooks like this for a couple of hours. When the ingredients are tender, the lid is removed and the heat turned up a little to reduce the liquid, further tenderizing and additionally caramelizing the braise.
Here is my pot of artichokes before I began the browning process. I started them with about 2 cups each of chopped carrots, celery, and leeks. To this I added 3 bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon each of dried tarragon and wild thyme, plus salt and pepper. The final dish can be served as a sauce over pasta, eaten as a side dish, or pureed into a rich soup.