Episode 104: Veg-In! 
Recipe: Artichoke Hearts Helen (with Tarragon and Mushrooms)
I first prepared these artichokes at the home of my friend and mentor Helen McCully, a cookbook author and the food editor of House Beautiful magazine, in the early 1960s. Whipped cream is added to the sauce just before filling the hearts to give richness to the dish and give it a glaze when it is run under the broiler.
Serves 6 as a first course
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups mushrooms cut into 1/2-inch-thick dice (about 6 ounces)
1 tablespoon cognac
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped mixed fresh tarragon and parsley
1/2 teaspoon potato starch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water (see info below)
6 artichoke hearts, (see preparation directions below), chokes removed, and kept warm in the broth
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the mushrooms and cook until the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated. Add the cognac and cook for 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup of the cream, the salt, pepper, and herbs and bring to a boil. Add the dissolved potato starch, mix well, and boil to thicken. Remove from the heat.
Preheat the broiler. Drain the artichokes.
Whip the remaining cream until stiff. Rapidly fold into the mushroom mixture, and immediately fill the artichoke bottoms. Sprinkle with the cheese and place under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes, until nicely browned.
I often use a “pure starch” — generally potato starch or arrowroot — to finish a sauce and give it a bit of viscosity. If nothing else is available, you can substitute cornstarch, but it tends to make a sauce gooey and gelatinous. I prefer potato starch, which is made from steamed potatoes that are dried and ground. Potato starch is gluten-free and sometimes appears in baked goods, particularly Jewish-Passover specialties. Inexpensive and available in 1-pound packages, it can be found in the Kosher section of many supermarkets and in Asian specialty food shops (it is also used in Japanese cooking). Arrowroot, on the other hand, comes in very small containers and is very expensive.
All of these starches are used in the same way: they are diluted with a little cold liquid — water, wine, or stock — and then stirred into a hot sauce. The starch thickens the sauce on contact and then it is usually brought to a boil.
ARTICHOKE HEARTS — BASIC TECHNIQUE
Artichoke hearts (also known as artichoke bottoms) are used in countless recipes, cold or hot, stuffed with ingredients from smoked salmon to stewed tomatoes to poached beef marrow. Although it takes some practice to shape, or “turn,” an artichoke properly, it is worth the effort.
With a sharp knife, trim off all the outer leaves all around each artichoke heart, as close as you can without taking the “meat” out of the heart. Cut off the inner cone of leaves at the point where they attach to the choke. Cut off the stem. With a small knife or vegetable peeler, trim the remaining greenish leaves and smooth the bottom as well as you can. There should still be some light green flesh on the heart. Rub the heart with lemon and put in a stainless steel saucepan.
For 6 hearts, add 4 cups water, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the hearts are tender when pierced with the point of a small knife. Remove from the heat.
When the hearts are cool enough to handle, remove the chokes with a spoon, then put the hearts in a container with enough of the cooking liquid to cover. They can be kept for at least 1 week in the refrigerator in the broth.
Copyright © 2011 by Jacques Pépin. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.