This week, my bike and myself went all the way to the asparagus place I would like to refer to as asparagus heaven. From afar I could see the white asparagus sign wasn’t up yet and I wondered: are there no asparagus to be had? And yes, there were no asparagus to be had. I was so disappointed I cried a little. I was wearing sunglasses so no one could see. You know, it hurt! I called my mum (or she called me, I don’t recall) and I told her there were still no asparagus at asparagus heaven. And she said that she hadn’t found any asparagus for sale near there, either. So we both cried a little. You know, she’d been driving around for ages, looking at suspicious looking humps where -for sure- asparagus were grown. But no one sold them. She asked at the supermarket for Dutch asparagus, and they didn’t have them. The supermarket guy told her that Dutch asparagus were awfully late this year. I also checked my supermarket. They have asparagus from Peru. But since that probably means they’re days old, instead of hours, I refuse to buy them. Otherwise I’d totally buy a bunch and cook them. I’m so asparagus-deprived that the whole Peru-thing seems like a tiny thing that can easily be overlooked. I’m easily persuaded, I know. Anyway, no Dutch asparagus. Anywhere.
The beauty of a thistle flower
So when I found myself in a greengrocer’s today and they had artichokes at €1.50 a piece (holy crap, that’s expensive) I didn’t check where they were from, I just bought one. Just one. Not five, which -on hindsight- would’ve been better. When I got home I realised that I actually had no idea how to prepare artichokes. I looked in my newest cookbook and they just had a recipe for artichoke hearts. Which actually means canned artichokes. You know, no matter how much I love my new cookbook, how on earth am I supposed to can my fresh artichoke? I don’t know these things! So I checked my ’50’s Dutch cookbook (revised version from the 2000’s). It had very little to say about artichokes. Seriously? Is this another joke? Doesn’t anyone eat these things anymore? Are they not cool enough for the general population? Are my fellow 20-something’s this deprived of all life that they don’t even buy fresh artichokes anymore? What kind of life am I living anyway? Should I abandon my €1.50 artichoke and see if McDonalds is willing to make me some french fries? Can I get American sauce with that? That’s what it’s called, I have no idea if it’s anything American, but whatever. I opened the kitchen cabinet that contains all my cookbooks. And I thought to myself: yes, this would be a perfect time for that! ‘That’ being my mum’s copy of ‘The Joy of Cooking‘ by Irma and Marion Rombauer. They’re American, you know. ‘That’ also referring to my mum’s advise when she gave me her copy ‘on loan’ (which is permanent, sorry mum, I’ll read the recipe’s to you when you need anything, but I can’t give it back, not anymore!). Her advice was this: ‘If you ever have anything that you’re not exactly sure about how to prepare, this book will provide the answer in a heartbeat.’ I listened intently while turning the ancient pages (this copy being printed in 1974, probably a wedding gift). ‘Remember that time I found a dead rabbit?’ (my mum saw it being hit by a car) Oh yes mum, I do! ‘Well, this book provided all the information on skinning and preparing rabbit!’ I remember that too! Dad with my siblings bent over the rabbit, cutting her (she had a uterus with babies inside) open, telling them what they were looking at. It was very much The Anatomy Lesson of dr. Nicolaes Tulp. My dad being that Tulp-guy, me being Rembrandt, because the picture is still very vivid and detailed when I think about it. Anyway, I took my mum’s copy home, and leafed through it some more, and I thought about making some of the recipes one day. Honestly, I wanted to be Julie & Julia. Unfortunately my name is nothing like Irma or Marion, and besides, they were together already. And besides that, I’m a horrible cook.
My copy of The Joy.
So I grabbed the book off the shelve and I looked for ‘artichoke’ in the index. And boy oh boy, did these ladies do artichokes! My other cookbooks didn’t have that many references to ‘artichoke’, but this one did. Page 256 is the first hit, and I stayed there. I cooked the artichokes just like that. Exactly like that. (I’m not sure if I would be violating copyright if I would list the recipe here, so I’m not going to, I will just tell you how good it is) And since I was quite bored, and the cooking of artichokes apparently takes 45 minutes, I started tweeting about it, also here, here, and here. I would never have thought of cooking the artichokes with other vegetables. I just wouldn’t. I’m probably too stupid. I was worried there was no salt in the recipe (I mean, every recipe has salt. I left some out, once, and it just totally ruined it. ‘It’ was bread. I threw it out. Saltless bread is inedible.) But I stuck to it. I persevered. Who am I to judge my new BFF’s Irma and Marion? (they’re long dead, but still, man, they live with me now, they’re my soulmates! Plus, they know how to cook, man.) I did not add salt.
The cut off artichoke stem.
In The Joy they advise you to serve the artichokes with Béchamel sauce. I know how to make Béchamel. My mother taught me when I was 8. It’s easy. Fry onions and garlic, add flour, add water or milk, season with whatever you can find (I usually empty my entire stash of herbs), and that’s it. Oh no no! Not Irma and Marion! They put flour in butter, then add milk, than add onions and garlic and only then do they season the sauce. They don’t tell you how to season it, exactly, but after tasting the superb sauce I had just created (see, they need to be my BFF’s, they could tell me 50 years before I was born how to make Béchamel sauce, I mean, they’re saints!), I knew it was so nearly perfect that my overly enthusiastic seasoning would kill it stone dead. And I didn’t want that. I wanted the sauce to live. And talk to the artichokes. And make a beautiful artichoke sauce. And make me happy. So I could die in peace someday, because I had, once in my life, made the perfect Béchamel. It was tough, you know, but I added salt. Lots. I added pepper. A little. And I added chives. (See, I have this chives plant in a pot, and it’s dying, so I think that by cutting it, it might stand a chance. And otherwise it will be dead anyway.) And a little marjoram. And that was it.
The Béchamel, prior to seasoning.
And then the whole thing was done. I ate the artichoke with an abundance of Béchamel, because I love a lot of sauce. On anything really. And it was great! Everything was great about it. So I do think that I can die in peace now. Even though I’m not sure the Béchamel was perfect, it was better than anything I’d ever hoped to achieve. And that is kind of perfect, right?
In the end, buying Irma and Marion Rombauer’s The Joy Of Cooking would be a fine investment, even today. I would like to get my hands on Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ too, then my life will be complete and I can do whatever I want. That would be great, wouldn’t it?
BTW: this is my first post with photo’s, I should do that more often, I like it! If only uploading pictures to my computer were more easy…