In the microuniverse of blogging, there are few controversies more spirited than the debate over sponsored posts and advertising. I personally don’t like advertising banners and badges on blogs – they’re distracting, unsightly, and (perhaps irrationally) they make me slightly suspicious of the blogger. My attitude may be self-indulgent – after all, great segments of bloggers’ conferences are devoted to “monetizing” your blog. (I admit I have never been to a bloggers’ conference.) But I figure this is MY blog and I can do what I like with it. I sneeringly turned down advertisements from a reputable Large London Grocer and I have decidedly mixed feelings about blogging restaurant reviews from places that offer free meals in exchange for a review. (Chris, at Cheese and Biscuits, does a nice job of describing the queasy internal conflict that goes along with the freebie here. He gets way, WAY more freebies than I ever will.)
All that said, however, I have a slightly different attitude to products. I think this is probably because I make everything from scratch and it’s hard to hide behind a raw ingredient. Plus if I’m lucky it gives me the opportunity to cook with something that I might not otherwise have tried. I’m pretty choosy about what I’ll accept – I have to like the people that are offering the item to me; e.g., I have to respect their ethos and their approach to food-sourcing. But I was pretty excited when the nice folks at Seggiano (a small family-run Italian food importer) invited me to choose some items from their catalogue. A box duly was delivered on Monday, and yesterday I took a crack at creating a recipe from one of the most intriguing of the contents: chestnut honey. To be clear: I got the honey for free, but I am not otherwise being paid to write this post.
Chestnut honey is unlike any honey I have ever tasted. It is dark brown, like buckwheat honey, and it has a heavily floral taste that is followed by a woody, bitter note reminiscent of walnut skins. It is quite intense: it lingers and kind of spreads itself over the palate. A little goes a long way. I wasn’t quite sure I would do with it, but yesterday inspiration struck at the Portobello Market where I saw beautiful baby purple artichokes for 50 p a pound. (What a score!) In this dish the bitterness of the honey is overlaid by lemon, aromatic thyme, and nutty notes of butter, in which it softens to almost form a caramel. It works well with the complicated, dense, sour-olive taste of artichokes. Baby artichokes are tender enough that they can be eaten whole, without having to trim the choke, so this dish has a garden-to-table prettiness. It would be nice as an accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats, or on its own as part of a summer meze spread.
2 pounds (a little less than a kilo) baby artichokes
50 grams unsalted butter
2 teaspoons chestnut honey
1 cup white chicken stock or vegetable stock (If using vegetable stock use one with plenty of flavour)
Juice of ½ lemon plus additional lemon juice for soaking the artichokes
8-10 sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim the artichokes by slicing off the stems, stripping off the coarse outer leaves, and trimming about half an inch from the tips. Use a paring knife to gently carve away the rough edges around the base where you have removed the leaves. (I found this post on trimming artichokes helpful.) Once trimmed, place in a medium bowl which you have filled with cool water and one to two teaspoons of lemon juice. (This keeps the artichokes from discolouring.)
Melt together the butter and honey in a heavy-bottomed skillet large enough to fit all the artichokes in a single layer. Once the butter has started to foam, add the artichokes, toss to coat, and reduce heat to medium or medium-low. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add the stock and the thyme and simmer, shaking pan occasionally, until some of the liquid has steamed off, about ten minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice, cover partially and continue to cook, turning the artichokes once or twice, for another 15-20 minutes or until the artichokes are tender when pierced with a sharp knife at the base. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately, or serve at room temperature, garnished, if you wish, with additional sprigs of fresh thyme
Makes about 4 servings.