I’ve been in Montpellier for almost a month and I’m very proud of myself for choosing to stay put here while I work an a biography for someone, among other things. Lately I’ve been staying in and have become a grateful hermit writer. But what can I say? I need to to finish the book. I understand why writers take off to cabins, sometimes it helps to get rid of all distractions at once. Sometimes I’m bored and lonely, I will admit, but that has given me time. The wonderful, relative and precious gift of time.
Something quite neat about Montpellier is the architecture – I really enjoy setting my eyes on the classic and detailed iron balconies everywhere I look and the gothic cathedrals, especially the grand Cathedrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier. The castle-like cathedral is joined to the University of Montpellier’s Faculty of Medicine, which is said to have attracted Muslim and Jewish physicians in the 12th century as a place of peace. The Faculty of Medicine is one of the oldest in the entire world, and is (rightfully) situated right across from a large and beautiful botanical garden.
I’m sure those very early physicians understood the link between diet and health, perhaps even more so than we do today. I’d love to know what the curricula was like and how they viewed food and nutrition. Some reading for another day. But really: What they would think of our food today? Of our enormous grocery stores filled with endless colourful boxes and cans and wrapped packages and our just-as-colourful bottles of sprays and pesticides that we apply with gas masks and gloves? Perhaps they’d consider us lucky, perhaps they’d shake their head in worry.
Something I made myself for the very first time here is artichokes. I’ve always been quite curious about this mysterious vegetable, which, to me, resembles a prehistoric rose. I asked the lady I’m staying with how the French typically prepare them, and she graciously told me “avec une vinaigrette”. That’s easy, I couldn’t help but think. She pulled out a big pan and instructed me to boil them in water just like I would potatoes. Facing up, she said.
After cutting off the stems and leaves, I boiled them and made a simple vinaigrette with some chopped garlic (I’m not sure if this is typical, but I just love garlic), some olive oil and some balsamic vinaigrette. When the lovely buds were done, after about 20 minutes, I strained them and let them cool before slowly peeling back the petals one at a time and dipping it them in the tangy vinaigrette. The sweetness from the vinegar paired perfectly with the slightly grassy earthiness of each delicate petal.
As I tore back the petals to get to the heart, I thought about how the artichoke teaches us patience and that we can’t have everything all at once. Good things come to those who wait. But be careful, says the artichoke! If you aren’t paying attention to things around you, you could hurt yourself. The tops of the buds as pointy as a needle, make sure not to prick your finger or, even worse, end up swallowing them.
Here’s the recipe:
- About 5 artichoke buds
- Some olive oil
- Some balsamic vinegar
- Chopped garlic
- Salt/ pepper
- A dallop of mustard
How it’s done:
- Place the buds (stems removed) in a pan covered with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes, then strain and cool in the pan or on a plate.
- Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing the oil, balsamic vinegar, the chopped garlic, salt and pepper and mustard together in a bowl.
- Enjoy. Pull back a petal (as I call them) and swoop them into the sauce, just as you would swoop a paint brush into your favourite colour of paint.