Tag Archives: artichokes

CRAB-STUFFED ARTICHOKES

A while back I wrote about a classic oyster and artichoke soup from New Orleans. Artichokes are among the  favorite ingredients for Louisiana cooks, both professionals and amateurs. It goes without saying that crab, along with shrimp and crawfish, is another favorite Louisiana ingredient. Combining the two is the basis for another popular Louisiana dish. I first enjoyed it many years ago when Susan and I were dinner guests of a great home cook in Ruston, Louisiana. Globe artichokes stuffed with a savory dressing is a welcome alternative to the usual artichoke bracts (leaves) dipped in aioli or Hollandaise.

Some Louisiana food authorities assert that stuffed artichokes – plain only or with shellfish – had their origin in Italian restaurants throughout the state and then became widely popular. That seems likely, because cultivated artichokes apparently had their origins in Sicily, and Italian cookbooks usually have many recipes using artichokes.  At the same time, I have only been able to find one recipe for stuffed artichokes – that by Giuliano Bugialli in the classic The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, first published in 1977. He stuffed his artichokes with pancetta or prosciutto.

In the USA, Castroville, California, seems to be the epicenter of the artichoke crop. The town dubs itself “Artichoke Capital of the World”, and you can see miles and miles of artichoke fields along the highway or through the windows of the train. Roadside stands abound.

The Louisiana crop is more modest, but it seems to meet the local need. We are nearing the end of the usual season, but with our present world-wide commerce, artichokes are available year around.

Whatever the origin of the recipe or the source of the vegetable, it is easy to see why stuffed artichokes are so popular. This recipe combines crab and Romano cheese, not considered by some to be a good combination. For me, it works.

 

RECIPE

Crab-Stuffed Artichokes

Ingredients

  • 2 large artichokes
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 8 ounces crab meat, picked over for shells and cartilage
  • ½ cup dry bread crumbs + more for topping
  • ½ cup fresh Romano cheese, grated + more for topping
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ teaspoon Creole seasoning or Old Bay
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Method

  1. In a stock pot boil enough water to submerge the artichokes. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into the boiling water and add the rinds. Add the artichokes, cover and boil slowly for 30 – 40 minutes or until an outer leaf is soft and can be removed easily. Drain and cool the artichokes.
  2. Prepare the artichokes for stuffing by cutting off the stem so that the artichoke can sit squarely on the work surface. Using scissors and starting up about 1/3 from the base, cut off the pointed ends of the outer leaves, working around the choke, trimming all the leaves until you come to the pink-hued inner leaves. Remove those leaves to expose the choke (also called the chaff). With a teaspoon, remove the fibrous chaff until the base of the artichoke is exposed and smooth. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the stuffing by combining the crab, bread crumbs, Romano, beaten egg, and seasonings in a small bowl.
  4. Working from the outer leaves inward and using a spoon, place a good teaspoon of the filling in the hollow of each leaf, reserving enough of the stuffing to fill the central hollow.
  5. Sprinkle the tops of the stuffed artichokes with additional bread crumbs and grated cheese. Drizzle the tops with melted butter and place the stuffed artichokes in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 40 minutes. Serve while still warm. Eat by pulling off the bracts, one by one. Take a bite of stuffing and scrape the soft artichoke flesh off the bract between your teeth. Keep on working toward the center. Cut the center into bite-sized pieces.
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OYSTER AND ARTICHOKE SOUP

While working on my recent post about baked oysters New Orleans style, I got to thinking about all of the food I have enjoyed focused on oysters: oysters on the half-shell, oysters Rockefeller, oyster po’boys, etc., etc. I also got to thinking about all of the good meals I have enjoyed in New Orleans.

One outstanding oyster dish from New Orleans immediately came to mind: Potage Le Ruth, invented by Chef Warren Leruth and served at his fabled Le Ruth’s Restaurant on the West Bank in Gretna. Before he opened his restaurant, Leruth had gained recognition  as a baker, chef and food innovator. He had been personal chef to General Clark when he was in the army in Korea, and he helped to develop the famous Duncan Hines cake mixes at Proctor & Gamble. So it was not surprising when he decided to open his own place in his home town.

New Orleans is one of those cities where everyone wants the latest gossip about new restaurants and hot places to go. When Le Ruth’s opened in 1966, it caught everyone’s attention with its creative cuisine. Food critics at the time said that Leruth rescued New Orleans dining from itself because all of the old-line restaurants had started to rest on their reputations and the food had become more or less the same. Le Ruth’s changed all of that and soon gained the reputation as being undoubtedly the best restaurant in the city. That was evidenced by the difficulty in snagging a reservation.

It was not the easiest place to get to. You could use the bridge over the Mississippi River, but it was far easier to ride the Gretna ferry from the foot of Canal Street and then catch a cab to the restaurant.

I remember clearly the first time I ever ate at Le Ruth’s. A group of colleagues and I were attending a business meeting in downtown New Orleans. We had made our reservations well in advance, and everyone was looking forward to the experience. We found our way to the restaurant, took our seats at the table and, ordered wine. One of the group stuck two of the corks from the wine bottles in his nostrils  when they were offered to him. He announced that the wine was perfect. We all laughed, but two distinguished ladies at the next table raised their eyebrows. I don’t exactly recall, but I believe that at least the wine taster had spent a sizeable part of the afternoon on Bourbon Street.

It is a good thing we didn’t get tossed out. Le Ruth had the reputation for responding to critical letters with scathing rebukes from an “anonymous” diner. For folks who gave real offense, he would assign four waiters to the corners of the tablecloth of the miscreant. At a signal, they would lift the cloth to form a sack of food, dinnerware, and wine while Leruth would announce that he “had picked up the check” and summarily declare, “Get out of my restaurant!” I am certain that Warren Leruth would know how to handle the current generation of whiners on Yelp.

Le Ruth’s served many delicious and unique dishes, but perhaps the most famous was Potage Le Ruth. Unfortunately, to my knowledge there is no extant authentic recipe. Leruth said that he had  the original locked up in a vault. Nevertheless, imitations – none as good – soon showed up on the menus of most of the other high-end restaurants in New Orleans. Then recipes for oyster and artichoke soup began to appear in local newspapers. Many of the knock-offs used cream, but Leruth bragged that his recipe contained no cream.  The soup is a sort of rich velouté based on a blond roux, so you really shouldn’t need cream.

Surprisingly, some food writers say that Leruth used canned artichokes. My version does, too, although respected New Orleans chefs insist that only fresh artichokes, properly cooked and prepared, will do. If you want to use fresh artichokes, probably four medium are about right. My version is adapted from a recipe that appeared in one of the Shreveport newspapers of the time. Be advised that it is not the real thing. I have taken the additional liberty of adding some whole oysters in the style of an oyster stew. Even though it lacks authenticity, I think you will find it a most delicious soup.

RECIPE

Oyster and Artichoke Soup

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ medium onion, chopped finely
  • 1 rib celery, chopped finely
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and chopped finely
  • 14 ounce can artichoke hearts, quartered
  • 3 cups hot fish stock
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground bay
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pint oysters
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice (about)
  • 1 pinch sugar (about)
  • ¼ cup madeira

Method

  1. Melt butter in the bottom of a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and sauté until the onions are translucent and the other vegetables have wilted. Do not brown.
  2. Add the flour and continue cook over medium heat and stirring frequently until the flour is completely incorporated and the raw taste has disappeared, about 2 minutes.
  3. Drain the artichokes and add to the sautéed mixture.
  4. Stir in the hot stock, thyme, bay, cayenne, salt and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer partly covered for 45 minutes.
  5. Strain the oysters in a fine-mesh strainer to remove any bits of shell and sand, saving the liquid. Set aside about half the oysters to be stewed later, and chop the remainder. Add the chopped oysters to the oyster liquor and then stir into the simmering soup, cooking for another 10 minutes below the boil
  6. With an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Correct seasoning with vinegar and sugar. Add the madeira. If you wish, at this point you may strain the soup through a chinois for an especially smooth soup, or you can omit that step.
  7. Return the soup to medium-low heat and stir in the remaining oysters, cooking until they are firm and the edges are curled.
  8. Serve immediately or cool to serve later. Then, reheat to the boiling point and serve immediately. Grilled farm-style bread makes a good accompaniment.

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