I'm still on my "thrilled to live in Artichoke-land bender" and am continuing to make good on my promises to prepare them any way I can imagine. This one was inspired by Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero, CA and their famous and fantastic artichoke soup. I tried to create a recipe that I would guess (but I don't know for sure) is pretty close to Duarte's and then merged that with my own favorite party dip. My delicious and peppery "Baby Artichoke and Pepperoncini Soup" was the delightful result.
The pepperoncini are the star of this soup and really make it something unique and surprising because of the spice and tang they contribute. The soup isn't hot, but definitely peppery and lemony. It's a very refreshing taste, even when served hot and steaming. Most artichoke soups are cream-based and while I often enjoy them, I find creamy soups in the heat of summer are a little too decadent. So, this one is a very light and healthy recipe as well. Great news if you're more a nibbler in the summer months! It would also be a yummy first course at a dinner party. Something to get the taste buds firing and ready for action but also interesting enough that no one will forget it!
Again, freshness is very important here and Baby Artichokes are quite polarizing. They can either be terrific or awful and you need to use the terrific ones here to make sure the texture of the soup is silky rather than stringy. Mine came from a wonderful local farmer's market, of course. Also, make sure to trim the baby artichokes all the way down to the very light yellow hearts and leaves. If you retain any outer leaves that are too fibrous and would need to have the flesh scraped with your teeth like full-size artichokes, then remove those tougher leaves and set aside and do not puree them in the food processor. You can save them for a sandwich or just nibble on them while you prepare the soup. But, it's imperative that you only use the tenderest of leaves and inner hearts. Baby artichokes should have an edible choke; they aren't hairy and prickly like mature artichokes. (After all, they are a thistle!!) Before pureeing, just make sure to slice the artichokes in half and double-check the chokes and soft and smooth.
Here's my recipe, feel free to improvise of course!
Serves 2-4 depending whether as main course or appetizer
16 baby artichokes, trimmed down to tender leaves and hearts and dropped in acidulated water
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
6 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 lemon; half sliced and half juiced
1 medium shallot, peeled and chopped
3 large pickled pepperoncinis, chopped and stems removed
2-3 cups water
1. Fill a large pot with 2 inches of water and add 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/4 tsp. black pepper, the garlic, 2 T. olive oil and the lemon slices. Place a heat-proof footed colander or steamer basket inside the pot and put the trimmed baby artichokes inside. Turn the heat on to medium high and bring the water up to a gentle boil. Place a lid over the colander and pot and steam the artichokes for 15-18 minutes until fork-tender. When ready, remove the colander and the artichokes and slice each artichoke in half, removing any tough outer leaves and checking the choke is soft and edible. Remove the lemon slices and reserve the artichoke stock.
2. In a food processor, pulse the artichokes until a nice paste begins to form. Add in the shallots, the garlic from the cooking stock and the pepperoncini and pulse again to mix. Add another 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/4 tsp. black pepper and the half-lemon juice (about 2 T.). Puree until very smooth. Slowly drizzle in the remaining 4 T. olive oil and puree until smooth and rustic, but free of lumps or fibers.
3. Transfer the artichoke and pepper base to a large saucepan or medium stockpot and heat on medium low. Add the reserved artichoke stock and another 1-2 cups water, depending on desired thickness. Taste and season accordingly. Slowly bring the soup up to steaming, but not boiling. Remove from heat immediately.
4. Garnish with julienned artichoke leaves and a slice of fresh goat cheese.