Artichokes are seasonal in late winter but don’t get nearly the play they deserve on restaurant menus, let alone on home tables. At Aigre Doux (230 W. Kinzie St.; 312-329-9400), executive chef and owner Mohammad Islam turns the unapproachable thistle into an elegant and light-bodied soup. The dish takes just minutes to cook: the artichokes braise for a short stint in white wine, then simmer briefly in stock. The waiters pour the soup at the table over seared bay scallops and dress it with bright-green chive oil. At home, braise an extra artichoke and slice it into wedges as an easy substitute for the scallops.
Mohammad Islam’s Braised Artichoke Soup (serves 4)
4 large artichokes, peeled and trimmed
Half a medium-sized yellow onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh whole thyme leaves
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup dry white wine
1 quart chicken stock
Salt and white pepper to taste
Optional: 1 teaspoon dry elderberry flower (place the herb in a small amount of cheesecloth and tie it tight with kitchen string; available via mail order through Le Sanctuaire, 310-832-8999)
To trim the artichokes: Cut away the tough part of the leaves with a knife until you get down to the light-yellow flesh. Cut off the artichoke’s top to reveal the fuzzy choke, and remove it with a spoon. Cut the stem to about 3 inches long, and peel away its fibrous outer layer with a paring knife. Plunge artichokes into water acidulated with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
(1) Sauté onion, garlic, and thyme with butter on medium-low heat until translucent. Place artichokes stem side up in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan; add wine and salt to taste.
(2) Bring to a gentle simmer and cover with a tight-fitting lid or aluminum foil; reduce heat to medium-low. Braise until the stems are fork-tender, about 12 minutes.
(3) Add chicken stock and elderberry flower packet; bring to a boil. Skim any impurities from the top, then simmer for five minutes.
(4) Remove the elderberry packet and add white pepper to taste. Purée in a blender on high (the mixture is hot and will explode, so work in small batches) and strain through a wide mesh strainer. (5) Serve immediately.