I look at this picture and I realize this plain little pureed soup doesn't look like much. Pureed soups in general are not all that picturesque. But if like me you're crazy for artichokes, artichoke soup is about as perfect as soup gets.
This soup is my riff on a Patricia Wells' recipe from Vegetable Harvest. Patricia Wells, if you're not familiar with her, is a serious cookbook author and some of her books, such as Bistro Cooking, are classics. Up until recently the only book of hers I owned was the Paris Cookbook which I bought mainly for the picture of the Eiffel tower on the front.
For some reason it hasn't been an inspiring cookbook (although I should revisit it; I've had more than a few experiences with a book being uninspiring only to pick it up later and wonder how it was that I hadn't found it inspiring) and the thing I've enjoyed the most about the book is the little glimpses into the glamorous Parisian life that Patricia Wells and her husband lead. There seems to be lots of strolling about Paris, dining in little bistros, having lunch at sidewalk cafes, and drinking champagne. More about that here.
Sometime in the years since I bought The Paris Cookbook (it was published in 2001) I read that Patricia Wells had a lifestyle change. She hit one of those points in life where you suddenly start gaining weight, went to a spa, lost 30 pounds, and seems now to eat in a more calorie conscious way. Her latest book, Vegetable Harvest, even includes calorie counts for each recipe which is something that I've seen in no other cookbook unless it's one specifically geared towards weight loss.
I have managed to make this a more caloric soup than it was originally. I think adding a few tablespoons of cream makes it better but the original is virtuously creamless with only a few curls of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and that version is good too. I use frozen artichoke bottoms which I buy from a Syrian grocery store (they seem to be a standard item in middle-eastern grocery stores) and with canned broth it's an exceptionally easy soup to put together.
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 shallot, diced
1 14-oz bags of frozen artichoke bottoms
1 to 2 14-oz cans of chicken broth (or, of course, an equivalent amount of homemade chicken stock)
1/8 cup or more heavy cream (optional)
1. Gently sauté the shallot in the olive oil in a medium-sized sauce pan.
2. Dice the frozen artichoke bottoms into 1" pieces and add to the shallot. Add a pinch of salt. Cook together for a few more minutes, then add 1 can of chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer together for about half an hour in order for the flavors to blend.
3. Allow the soup to cool a little bit, then pour the soup in a blender and puree. Depending on the size of your blender you may have to do this in batches. While blending the soup hold the top of the blender down with a kitchen towel to prevent any untoward blending accidents.
4. Return the soup to the saucepan and add additional chicken broth to thin the soup to the consistency you like. Add the heavy cream. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste.
5. Heat the soup and serve.
Notes: Patricia Wells makes her version with homemade chicken stock. If I ever got off my butt and made my own chicken stock, I would too. She puts the soup through a food mill rather than a blender. I've done both and am happy with the results from both but the blender seems easier so I've stuck with that.