Artichokes barigoule--slowly braised in wine, oil and stock enhanced with aromatic vegetables and herbs--may be a classic dish in restaurant kitchens, but it is all but unknown to American home cooks. Think of it as you would tapenade, that infinitely flexible paste of black olives: It’s perfect as it is, but it offers almost unlimited variations.
Furthermore, a barigoule is the kind of dish that can really connect you to cooking if you’ll slow down to enjoy the process: carefully turning the artichokes to trim off the leaves and chokes, sweating the flavoring vegetables until they’re soft and fragrant, then gently braising the artichoke hearts until they’re so tender they can be easily pierced with a knife.
The result is a vegetable with great flavor--the subtle nutty flavors of the artichoke enhanced by the sweetness of vegetables, the acidity of the poaching liquid and the richness of olive oil. It is also a vegetable with extraordinary versatility. Artichokes cooked this way can be sliced and served as they are, either hot or cold, with a vinaigrette and lots of fresh herbs. They can be mashed into a paste and used in a hearty vegetarian stew or salad. Puree them and use the puree as a sauce for lamb, chicken or fish, or thin it with more of the cooking liquid to make a soup--or use it as a filling for ravioli and serve it in a rich sauce made from the cooking liquid. That cooking liquid, an amazingly delicious thing in itself, can be varied according to whim, using different seasonings, juices or oils.
If you spot a good deal on artichokes, or even if you don’t, this is the kind of preparation that’s best to do in big batches. It will keep in its liquid in the refrigerator for a week, at the ready for all kinds of uses (a salad one night, a soup another, then a sauce for grilled fish).
The most difficult part of this preparation--and the most pleasing to master and do well--is turning the artichoke. Hold a very sharp paring knife vertically with the sharp edge of the blade toward you. Then rotate the artichoke on the axis of its stem against the blade until all the leaves and green skin have been shaved off. Immediately place the hearts in a bowl of water with some wine and lemon juice added to keep them from oxidizing.
After that, it’s just fun cooking--sweating the vegetables to begin developing their flavors, nestling the hearts concave-side down into that soft bed to begin their cooking and then adding the liquid and slowly bringing it up to a simmer. The smells should be rich and the fat will give the braising liquid a gorgeous sheen. The vegetables flavor the cooking liquid, and the cooking liquid flavors the artichokes. The aromas from the pot fill the kitchen.
Keller is chef at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley. Ruhlman is author of “Soul of a Chef” (Viking, $26.95). They are co-authors of “The French Laundry Cookbook” (Artisan, $50).
Previous columns by them can be found on The Times’ Web site, at http://www.latimes.com/keller.