On a warm spring night in Olympia Greece, near my father in law's village, Mr K and I sat down in a small taverna to rest our weary legs from a hot day of walking. Our table was out on a small balcony, softly lit with yellow flickering lanterns. The air was filled with the thick smell of thousands of olive trees releasing their oil after the heat of the day. It mingled with the inviting tang of sizzling garlic and a distant note of sweet, Greek cigars. The soft conversation of local families, who were our dining companions, floated around in the warm breeze along with the clink of glasses and the sounds of busy insects buzzing away in the dusk light.
Our host for the evening told us about the wonderful wild local artichokes and plump young broad beans, which he had harvested that morning. These beautiful vibrant green vegetables had been slowly cooked with a huge fragrant bouquet of dill, the juice of lemons - plucked from the tree growing in the taverna garden, a few carrots and potatoes, along with the star of the show - thick, greeny gold olive oil made from the thousands of ancient olive trees that fill the Olympian hillsides. We were completely seduced and immediately ordered a plate, along with some young, very chilled dusky pink rose, also made by the taverna, and some thick crunchy rustic bread. In every way this dish lived up to its evocative description from our host. The earthy flavours of the artichokes danced with the tang of the lemons in the thick sauce - and the slight aniseed flavour of the dill made it taste, well just so classically Greek.
Back home in Australia, spring has been tempting us with its fleeting appearance - a warm day here and there, but the chill of cool winter nights are still in the air. Just as the temperature is flirting with us, so too is the spring market produce. At the Ramsgate Foodies Organics Market, I was thrilled to fill my basket with the wild and un-tameable bouquet of some of the first spring artichokes. Once I got past the jungle of leaves, the bouquets held small heavy waxy green artichokes, as well as some completely tiny ones. Combined with a find of some beautiful Dutch cream potatoes from Highland Goumet Potatoes at the Eveleigh Farmer's Market, I was inspired to recreate the beautiful artichoke dish we had eaten on that warm spring night in Olympia.
Artichokes 'city style'
4 small brown onions (or you could use spring onions)
3 cloves of garlic
4 - 5 medium sized potatoes, washed, peeled and chopped into large pieces
200g shelled fresh broad beans (the younger the better)
A bunch of fresh dill, roughly chopped
Juice from 3 fresh lemons, plus extra for cleaning artichokes
1 cup of good Greek olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: peel and roughly chop the onions and carrots.
Step 2: drizzle some olive oil in a heavy based pan and place on a low heat. Add the onions and fry gently (you don't want them to brown - just to be become transparent). Then add the chopped carrots.
Step 3: While the onions are frying, prepare the artichokes. If the artichokes are large, you will need to remove the hairy choke. If they are small, new season artichokes they won't have to much of a hairy choke to remove. Just pull off any of the tough outer leaves, halve them, rub with a cut lemon and place in a bowl of water, with some lemon juice squeezed in.
Step 4: Add the garlic cloves (whole) to the onions and carrots and gently fry.
Step 5: add the chopped potatoes and dill to the onion, carrots and garlic - stir to combine.
Step 7: add the lemon juice
Step 8: add the Greek olive oil
Step 9: add enough water to cover the vegetables, along with some salt and pepper. Cook on a low heat for around 1 hour, stir occasionally and very gently as you don't want to break down any of the vegetables. After about 1 hour, add the shelled broad beans.
Step 10: simmer the broad beans for around 20 minutes, or until cooked to your liking. Check the sauce for seasoning and adjust. Served with a chilled Greek rose and some crunchy rustic bread to soak up the thick, tangy lemon sauce.