Ah, it’s late June and we’re deep in the heart of summer vacation season. Just saying the word ‘vacation’ can change your attitude. Yeah … summertime and the livin’ is easy.
In recent years, foodie-themed vacations have become almost de rigueur for many people. You know, the braggart ones. Their conversations are as dull and predictable as a car commercial. “Of course we went to Napa in the fall; the winery tours were just exhausting. Yes, yes, Thomas Keller showed us his private herb garden and Michael Chiarello’s pasta class was fabulous. Of course, everything was organic!” Urgh! Show-offs.
OK, fine. I’ll admit it, I’m jealous! That really does sound epic. Yet I believe that to truly enjoy a foodie vacation, you need to cook some meals yourself. This gives you the opportunity to get away from hotels and tourist traps, rent a house, villa or apartment and immerse yourself in the local culture. And by culture, I’m talking food. Sure, I appreciate art and stuff, but food truly defines a people.
One of my longer vacations was in France. This was the trip when I really discovered who the French are. It was disappointing to learn they are not the romanticized artists, poets and scholars like in old movies. And while it’s true that there are many little cafés and restaurants, most affordable ones are nothing special—you’ve gotta pony up big bucks at an outrageously expensive café to get a memorable meal.
One thing that didn’t disappoint? Readily available raw ingredients. Each little town has its own outdoor market. Naturally, I visited as many as I could. These markets offer much more than produce and crafts, selling clothing, kitchen utensils, tablecloths, etc. You could say they’re little outdoor Walmarts.
The produce at the markets is really something special. These amazing foodstuffs have the look of French still-lifes (see, I do appreciate art). Absolutely flawless appearance and flavors and textures that are the stuff dreams are made of. Each item is picked within a day or two of the market, at its peak ripeness. The baby artichokes were a personal favorite. To date, I’ve never had a better example of these rare treats. So here’s a recipe I used to Chef Up these bad boys when I was in France.
Chef Bill’s Artichokes à la Barigoule
- 12 baby artichokes, cleaned, halved and stored in acidulated water
- 3 oz. virgin olive oil
- 2 cups mirepoix, medium dice
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 cup bacon, small dice
- 1 bouquet garni
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup scallions, sliced
- 1/2 cup assorted chopped herbs
- S&P to taste
- Brown the bacon in 1 Tbsp. of olive oil. Remove and save for garnish.
- Add the rest of the oil and mirepoix and garlic. Sweat until translucent. Add the artichokes, cut side down.
- Sauté briefly, then add wine, chicken broth, bouquet garni and lemon.
- Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Check the artichokes for doneness after 15 minutes. They should be slightly tender when poked with a knife.
- Remove artichokes and reduce the liquid by about two-thirds.
- Adjust the seasoning, return artichokes and garnish with bacon and herbs.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at [email protected] to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!