Entrées Froides et Chaudes at Azara, Tunis
One steaming plate of mussels.
Two artichokes: mountainous, glistening.
The artichoke is all danger, deception, treachery. It is all hidden spikes and spines, possesor of menacing, fibrous bits. So, I have come to believe that you cannot truly appreciate an artichoke's structure or essence until you've butchered one and relished the butchering.
Until you've torn leaf from leaf; until you've slid those tiles between your teeth and scraped all that delicate flesh from their tips; until you've pierced the heart of an artichoke with your knife, the soft-skinned petals scattered around you, and eaten one voluptuous mouthful after another, well, you may've consumed an artichoke, but you've never understood one. (And the mussels: soft and sweet, with just a hint of rubber to the bite.) We stacked a plate high with empty mussel shells on one side, naked artichoke leaves on the other.
MFK Fisher once wrote on the most perfect day of gluttony. She, her mother, and her father were wandering the south of France and stopped into a small cafe. They ordered beluga caviar and foie gras gently seared, and copious amounts of wine. They sat in the café until nightfall. Between them they consumed seven baguettes, an entire tin of caviar, three bottles of wine, the livers of two dead, but well-celebrated ducks.
At the end of my artichoke glut I felt the same words of gratitude welling up in my heart that MFK did waddling back to the inn, her hand tightly on her mother's arm to keep her from tippling into the ditch.