Artichokes have long been considered an arch enemy of wine.
The chemical contained in the leaves and stem, cynarin, causes whatever you eat or drink afterward to taste sweet, metallic or bitter. Not only does wine taste horrible with most artichoke dishes, even water can taste weird. Worse, the effect lingers and it takes eating something like bread or crackers to get the taste off your palate.
But, I love artichokes. And I am challenged by the notion that they should be avoided with wine. I know from much experience and practice that you can turn a wine-challenged dish into a wine-friendly dish by adding enough salt and acidity, usually in the form of lemon juice, to create a harmonious pairing. Why should artichokes be any different?
They are often served with butter and lemon juice or a tangy mayonnaise or a warm hollandaise sauce, all of which contain some form of acidity. It’s a classic combination and that acidity provides a bright balance to the rich, sweet flavor of the artichoke.
With baby artichokes showing up in the market and farm stands, I decided to do a dish of braised artichokes similar to one I had in Provence a few years ago called Artichokes Barigoule. Borrowing from this dish, I braised the young hearts with bacon, shallots, garlic, carrots, white wine and chicken stock. I added lemon juice along the way, knowing I needed to layer the acidity into the dish to help it harmonize with the wine.
I decided to put the artichokes to the test. I poured a glass of Verdejo, and a glass of Pinot Noir. Following my wine-and-food-tasting strategy, I first tasted the wines so I had a good sense of their flavor, unadulterated by food. I then took a bite of the artichoke dish. I took another sip of the Verdejo. Ugh. It wasn’t good. I took another bite of the artichoke, then tasted the Pinot Noir. Same thing. The wines were awful.
I squeezed more lemon juice on the dish and tried again. Better the second time, but still not great. I added more lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt the third time. This time it worked. Both wines tasted great with the artichokes. And the dish didn’t suffer from the liberal addition of the lemon juice. It was bright and fresh tasting.
Some foods take more acidity and salt than others to find this sweet spot with the wine, but you can always find it. Try it the next time your wine and food are clashing, and let me know what happens.
Braised Baby Artichokes
12 baby artichokes, about 1 ½ pounds
4 slices bacon, about 3 ounces, sliced crosswise into ¼” slices
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 carrot, peeled, cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups chicken broth (homemade preferably)
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Fill a large bowl of water with cold water, leaving enough room for the artichokes.
Cut one lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the water. Drop the squeezed lemon halves into the water and give it a swirl to distribute the juice.
Clean the artichokes:
Remove the tough outer leaves from the artichoke, down to the tender pale green heart inside. Trim off the top, if the tips are spiky and tough. Using a small knife, trim off the tough outer skin from the stem, then split the artichoke in half lengthwise and drop immediately into the lemony water, as you finish cleaning them all.
Place the bacon into a deep, wide braising pan on the stove. Turn the heat to medium and cook the bacon until it is golden brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the bacon, using a slotted spoon, and set aside, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. Turn the heat to low. Remove the artichokes from the water and pat them dry. Turn the heat back to medium and place the artichokes, cut side down, in a single layer in the pan. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook them until browned, about 3-5 minutes, then turn them over and cook another 1-2 minutes. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
Place the olive oil in the pan. Add the shallots and garlic and cook over medium heat until they are tender and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the carrots, the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper and cook another 2 minutes. Return the artichokes to the pan, then add the white wine. Turn the heat up to medium high and reduce the wine until it is almost gone. Add the chicken broth, thyme and bay leaf. Cut the second lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the artichokes. Bring the mixture a boil, cover and turn down to low. Cook for 18-20 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.
Just before serving, cut the third lemon in half and squeeze over the dish.