Crema di Carciofi Ester

Artichoke Soup

In the Jewish Italian kitchen the repertoire of dishes made with artichokes is particularly large. When I asked a woman at the ghetto market why this was the case she said, “Well, artichokes are bitter, and that’s part of our heritage.” This artichoke soup is named after Esther, Queen of Persia, and is served at Purim, a joyful holiday that commemorates her triumph over the evil minister Haman and her rescue of the Jews. While it is traditionally thickened with a besciamella, you can make a less rich version by using rice or potato as a thickening agent and adding only broth, or perhaps a little milk or cream in addition to broth for thinning. This recipe was inspired by one from the dairy section of La cucina nella tradizione ebraica.

Ingredients

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 12 artichokes
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ pound potatoes, peeled and diced, or ½ cup white rice
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • Milk or heavy cream for thinning
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Chopped peeled toasted hazelnuts or pine nuts or chopped flat-leaf fresh parsley or mint for garnish

Method

Have ready a large bowl of water to which you have added the lemon juice. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, cut off the stem flush with the bottom. Remove all the leaves until you reach the pale green heart. Pare away the dark green area from the base. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard the choke from each half. Then cut each half lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices and drop into the lemon water.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Drain the artichokes and add to the pan. Sauté for a few minutes, then add the garlic, the potatoes or rice, and about cups of the broth, or enough to just cover the artichokes. Cover the pan and simmer over medium heat until the artichokes are very tender and almost falling apart, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a food processor. Puree until smooth, then return the puree to the saucepan. Add the remaining cups broth. Reheat, adding more broth and/or a little milk or cream to achieve the consistency you prefer. Season with salt and pepper. The artichoke flavor intensifies as the soup sits, so it’s best to make it a few hours ahead of time or even the day before and reheat it at serving time.

Serve in shallow soup bowls. Sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts, pine nuts, parsley, or mint.

Variations

To make the rich version of this soup, make a besciamella with 2 tablespoons each butter and flour and 1 cup milk and use it in place of the cups broth added to the puree. You may find that you will still need to thin the soup with a little broth.

Although not a Purim specialty, you can make a wonderful asparagus soup by substituting 2 pounds trimmed asparagus (3½ to 4 pounds untrimmed) for the artichokes. Season it with a hint of saffron and garnish with chopped pistachios or pine nuts.