Good things come from a little bit of effort.
It’s a lesson easily learned. Slack off, cut corners and the result might be ok- passable even. But you won’t have that shining seam of satisfaction that runs from the tip of your head right down to your second toe. That feeling only comes from putting in some hard yards.
It’s elbow grease that explains why some people I know are very proud to show off this most beautiful house.
(which besides being environmentally sensitive and artful is located around the corner from the best coffee in Sydney). If anyone’s in the market for a stunning house in one of the best parts of Sydney- do go and buy it.
I’m in awe of the long days and hard nights they’ve spent building and designing it together. It’s a perfect marriage; of his skill and her taste.
It’s that sort of work that calls for satisfied popping of champagne corks.
It’s a long bow, but the same equation of effort in and rewards reaped applies to this starter.
All it takes is three core elements- but you can’t cut corners on any of them.
Firstly; get the best jamon you can afford. Don’t go crazy- some of that ham can get into the silly money stakes (acorn fed pigs not coming cheap). But the better the jamon you wrap around your grissini, the better the result.
Secondly; cook your artichoke yourself. It involves nothing more than lopping off some of the stem, hacking off a little of the top to help the leaves open up and then steaming/boiling it for 25 minutes or so in a big pot with hot water, half a lemon and a bay leaf. It’s done when the leaves at the base pull away from the stem. There’s something languidly satisfying about slowly demolishing your table’s centrepiece; bit by bit dunking the leaves into a smokey aioli and dragging them across your lower teeth until you’ve harvested some sweet flesh.
And then there’s the coffee aioli. You should make it yourself. Not just because mayonnaise like this tastes much better than any that you could get from a jar, but because you’ll be able to give yourself a smiling pat after convincing an egg yolk that it really can swallow 125 ml of oil.
A few other notes. The garlic in the aioli needs to be freshly grated – no sad pebbles from a jar. The espresso needs to be made with love and care- because you’re only going to add two tablespoons of the crema from the top.
And while this may sound like a wild combination; it works. The coffee gives a mysteriously earthy punch to the aioli. But what you can’t scrimp on is the salt. A generous pinch really makes it sing and allows the coffee to dance about; masquerading as anchovies and other mysterious elements.
The only thing you shouldn’t do yourself, is transfer the espresso over to the carpet where the light is best, to try and take a photo.
Because you might spill it.
Then you will try and try and try, with elbow grease and maybe a few tears to get that stain out of the cream rug. Except no amount of effort is going to do that. And there’s nothing satisfying about realising that at all.
But that’s a story for another day.
Luckily this combination of artichokes, aioli and jamon is perfect with cava, champagne and prosecco.
And hopefully after a few glasses of bubbles, you might stop talking about whether you’ll ever get the bond for the flat back, and start congratulating yourself for making what is a a truly delicious starter.
Artichokes and jamon grissini with coffee aioli
Serves 4 as part of a sharing plate starter
1 bowl. 1 whisk. 1 large saucepan. 1 sharp knife.
1 egg yolk
100 ml mild olive oil (or 50 ml of olive oil and 50 ml of vegetable oil)
3 small garlic cloves
2 tablespoons of espresso
Good pinch of salt
150 grams of good quality jamon
3 grissini per person
1 large artichoke
1 bay leaf
Hot water to cover
Here’s how we roll
1. To cook the artichoke, first cut off top inch where the leaves are tightly bunched, like a bud. Also trim the stem to just an inch. If the leaves are particularly spiky, you can trim them too (or just be careful while you eat it not to stab yourself).
2. Put the artichoke in a large pot and cover 3/4 of the way up with hot water. Add the bay leaf and half the lemon. Bring the water to the boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 25 to 45 minutes- until you can easily pull the outer leaves off.
3. Assemble the grissini by snapping them in half and wrapping strips of jamon around the broken ends.
4. Make the aioli. Place a wet tea towel under a clean bowl (this will help make the bowl more stable). Whisk the egg yolk for 30 seconds to help get some air into it.
5. Very slowly trickle a small amount of olive oil down the side of the bowl. Whisk until it is absorbed. Do this again. And again and again. Do not pour freely until you have a good, thick and glossy looking mayonnaise. If you’ve split the mayonnaise and it won’t take the oil, don’t throw out what you have. Just get a fresh bowl and crack another egg yolk into it. Now trickle the oil/egg mixture in, bit by bit. When that has turned into a mayonnaise, add the remaining oil.
5. When you’re satisfied with your mayonnaise, add the garlic and coffee. Stir. Then season generously with salt. Taste. If you think it needs more, add more.
6. Eat with the grissini, jamon and artichoke leaves. Find something to celebrate.