As a college senior, I waitressed at an Italian restaurant and gained ten pounds almost instantly. It was hard not to: the food was great. I lived for the staff meal at the end of each shift, a small dish of pasta with gravy and a single meatball. And more often than not, servers would order additional food from the kitchen. We spent hours around those delicious plates. Cravings would build up over the course of an evening, usually to be satisfied in the darkened side dining room towards the end of a shift.
My first few months at this restaurant were an educational experience. I learned how to tie a tie, to uncork wine with grace, to reel off ten cuts of pasta from memory. And there was always something new to try. One night, another server had ordered Artichokes French after her shift. She was enjoying them in the darkened side dining room when I wandered in to chat.
“How are those?” I asked.
“Oh, they’re amazing,” she told me around a mouthful of artichoke.
“I’ve been serving them a lot, so I was wondering,” I replied. “I’ve never even had artichokes.”
“Well, you’ve got to try these,” she insisted, holding out a forkful.
I chewed. Wow. The artichokes were a little crispy at first bite. They had been battered in egg before a quick pan-frying. Within, they were tender and delicious. Their flavor was great by itself, but I loved the buttery sauce they were doused in. There was definitely lemon in there, and some white wine, but it was perfectly balanced. The artichokes were phenomenal.
(Side note: this took place in 2007, and I’d just met that girl. I didn’t know it then, but she would eventually become a very good friend. And if you try these, you’ll understand just how generous she was to share: if I had ordered these, I’d want every bite for myself).
Artichokes French became one of my favorite dishes when I worked at that restaurant, but the chef refused to give away his recipe. Since I’ve left, I’ve tried to figure it out on my own. I’m not sure how these would compare to the original, which I hadn’t seen before and haven’t seen since. But you know what? They’re pretty good on their own.
I call my recipe Artichokes Francaise in the original spirit of the dish. (I suspect that restaurant went with “french” to ease pronunciation difficulties; their patrons had enough difficulty ordering “pasta pollo”).
2 cans whole artichoke hearts, drained and halved
1/4 cup Sciabica Mission Spring Harvest olive oil, or extra virgin oil of your choice
3/4 cup flour
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, divided
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Splash of chicken stock (optional)
Salt and ground black pepper
First, you’ll prepare the artichokes for pan-frying by battering them. In a medium bowl, mix the flour with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper. In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, Parmesan, 1 tablespoon of parsley, and a few pinches of salt and pepper.
Roll the artichoke halves into the flour, then dip them in egg.
Next, cook them. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium. Pan-fry the artichoke halves, flipping once, until crispy and golden brown on each side. Do this in batches if necessary so you don’t crowd the pan. Let them drain on a paper towel.
When the artichokes are done and the saute pan is empty, you’ll make the sauce. Deglaze the pan with white wine. When almost all of it has bubbled away, add the lemon juice, and chicken stock (if using). Stir everything together and let it cook down to almost nothing. At that point, add the butter bit by bit, then parsley, salt, and pepper to taste.
Place the artichokes in a serving platter, pour the sauce on top, and serve as a side dish or appetizer.