Many long years ago, I had a chef instructor at the California Culinary Academy by the name of Lars Kronmark. Chef Lars’ kitchen was upstairs, and the restaurant it supported was a less formal, brasserie style of restaurant. Lars provided me with some of the very best recipes in my repertoire, including this, Purée Georgette. His memory aid for the name of the soup was that it shared a name with Jean Michel Jeudy’s wife, so, as a result, I invariably remember it as having been named after her, though the recipe dates to several centuries before dear Mdme. Jeudy. What makes this soup stand apart from the typical Escoffier lexicon of soups is that it is thickened with croutons. This is an ancient technique contrived to use up stale bits of bread rather than waste it. Like all great high cuisine, it began in the hands of the peasants.
I have long since lost Lars’ recipe, but this version from James Peterson’ wonderful book is very similar if not identical. Make a big pot of this on a cool spring night when the artichokes are still fresh, and you will want for nothing.
Purée GeorgetteFrom Glorious French Food: A Fresh Approach to the Classics by James Peterson
One of the great things about this soup is that it captures all the flavor of artichokes but it’s effortless to eat. And unlike a lot of French artichoke dishes that involve turning artichokes, thereby wasting the leaves, for this recipe you use almost the whole artichoke and strain out anything that’s tough or fibrous. Most recipes have you rubbing the raw artichokes with lemon to prevent them from turning dark, but if you really want artichokes that are pale green with no gray patches, you need to marinate the cooked artichokes overnight with a little lemon juice to bleach them.
- 6 medium-size or 4 large artichokes (about 25 pounds [1.1 kg] total weight) Transcriber’s Note: This is an obvious proofreading error on the part of the original publisher. 1.1 kg amounts to about 2.5 lbs., not 25 lbs. I just go with 4 big ones, or 6 smallish ones and call it square.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 slices firm-textured white bread, such as Pepperidge Farm
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4 cups [1 l] cold chicken broth (page 209)
- ½ cup [125 ml] heavy cream
Cut the top one-third off each artichoke and discard. Cut off the stems and reserve. Trim off and discard the outermost leaves by rotating each artichoke against a sharp paring knife or by just pulling away the leaves. Cut the artichokes vertically in quarters and peel the outermost fiber from the stems. Simmer the artichokes and stems in a non-aluminum pot with plenty of water to cover and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Put a plate on the artichokes to keep them from bobbing up.
Cut the crusts off the bread, cut the slices into quarters, and cook the quarters in the butter in a sauté pan, over medium heat, turning once, until the bread is golden brown on both sides.
When the artichokes and stems are easily penetrated with a knife, after about 25 minutes, drain in a colander and toss with the lemon juice and the remaining olive oil.
Purée the artichokes and stems in a blender with the toasted bread and 3 cups of the cold chicken broth for about 1 minute. Start on slow speed and gradually increase the speed to high. Work the purée through a food mill or work it through a coarse strainer with the back of a ladle. Strain a second time, ideally through a fine-mesh strainer. Combine the purée with the rest of the broth and the heavy cream. Bring to a simmer just before serving and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Variation: Escoffier has a version of artichoke soup that includes hazelnut oil. I sometimes dribble a little hazelnut oil (made from toasted nuts) on each serving.