Artichoke Bottoms Stuffed with Fava Bean Puree

Marcel Boulestin started writing his “Finer Cooking” series for British Vogue in 1923, and his menus and recipes set a standard that still holds. One of his favorite vegetable dishes, artichoke bottoms stuffed with fava bean puree, is also one of mine. And even though I put a similar dish in my first book, I must include this version here, since it is one of the great, timeless classical garnishes. Few dishes are as sublime. Boulestin’s version, called saintongeoise, had a little Mornay sauce (“rather light and thin”) poured over the artichokes and fava puree, which was then topped with a little “grated cheese before finishing them under the gas grill or in the oven.” They are delicious that way too, but I like them plain.

Tasting them for the first time in Provence in the early 1970s, I discovered the natural affinity of winter savory for fava beans, a happy marriage that belongs in the short lexicon of flavors that should never be separated, like strawberries and red currants or, as is more common, fresh rosemary and lamb.

To this list, I would also add artichokes and fava beans, both of which are celebrated by the winter savory. As a recipe, it is easy to see why it never appears in restaurants today: the prodigious amount of favas required to make the puree in any quantity, and the labor it takes to peel them. But the dish can be appreciated in the home, because to make it for four is not all that daunting and well worth the effort. In the nineteenth century, this dish was always served with roasts of chicken and lamb, but now Hove it as a first course, eaten all by itself.

And yes, the fava puree does need this much butter and will happily take it.

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Ingredients

  • 4 large artichokes
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 pounds fresh fava (broad bean) pods
  • 2 sprigs fresh winter savory or thyme
  • ½ pound butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Cut 3 inches off the top off each artichoke and discard. With a stainless-steel paring knife, continue to cut around the artichoke, rotating it in your hand as you cut, until only the very bases of the leaves remain on the bottom of each artichoke. Trim the stem to inch. Store each artichoke bottom in cold water into which you have squeezed the lemon and then added the lemon halves.

When all the bottoms are trimmed, put them in a stainless steel pot with the lemon water and lemons, add a tablespoon of salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the artichokes are just tender when pricked with a paring knife. Remove the artichokes and put them in a colander stem end up. Cover with ice and let them drain and cool for 10 minutes. When cool, cut out the chokes or center fibers and discard.

Take all the fava beans out of the pods and remove the outer pale green skins from the beans. Put the beans and savory in a sauce pan and cover with water by 1 inch. Add ½ teaspoon salt, bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer for 8 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid and the beans separately. Put all but 24 of the beans through the medium blade of a food mill, or puree in a food processor, using up to half the cooking liquid to help the process. Press the puree through a fine sieve. Cover and set aside. Keep the 24 beans warm.

Put the artichoke bottoms in a sauté pan just large enough to hold them. Add the remaining beancooking liquid and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Cover and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. While they are cooking, put the bean puree in a double boiler and heat it. When it is hot, add 6 tablespoons of the butter and stir. Season, remove from the heat, and keep warm.

Remove the cover from the artichoke pan. Spoon the bean puree into the artichoke bottoms, put the cover back on, turn off the heat, and let sit for 5 minutes. Then put the filled artichoke bottoms on hot plates. Toss the reserved favas in the remaining tablespoon of butter, season, and spoon the warm beans around the filled artichokes.

Variations

Serve with cooked and sieved red and yellow bell pepper purees (½ cup each), heated and mounted with butter (1 tablespoon each).