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Oyster, Artichoke And Spinach Stew

Oyster and artichoke soup, similar to an oyster and spinach bisque.
Laura McCandlish for NPR

A New Orleans staple, oyster and artichoke soup first caught my eye in James McNair's now out-of-print Soups (Chronicle Books 1990). I combined that recipe with elements of an excellent oyster and spinach bisque from the now-defunct Wesley's Restaurant in Virginia Beach, Va.

For a Cajun kick, ratchet it up with some hot sauce. Next time, I might also spike the stew with Pernod, or other anise liqueur, which pairs well with oysters.

Makes 4 servings as a soup course, or at least 2 as a main dish

2 large artichokes

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup chopped shallots, leeks and/or yellow onion (I use half leeks, half onion)

1/2 cup sliced celery

1/4 teaspoon celery salt or seed

3 loosely packed cups spinach, roughly chopped

2 cups chicken or fish stock

1/8 cup flour

1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream

Ground cayenne pepper

Salt, freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Splash of dry sherry or white wine

1/2 pint (8 oz.) freshly shucked small- to medium-sized oysters, drained

Chopped fresh chives and parsley, for garnish

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cut off tip of artichoke stems and snip off the thorny tops of the leaves. Peel the stem to remove tough bottom leaves. Place in a steamer basket over 1 to 2 inches of boiling water, and steam about 30 to 45 minutes, until the stem and hearts feel tender when pierced. Pull off the leaves, spooning off their meat into a bowl. Scrape out and discard the leaves and fuzzy choke. Chop the crowns and peeled stems, adding them to the bowl. Set aside.

In a soup pot or large, heavy saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the shallot, leek or onion, and celery, and saute until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the celery salt or seed, artichoke pulp and chopped spinach, sauteing 1 minute longer.

Stir in the stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Transfer soup to a food processor or blender (I use an immersion blender in the pot) and puree until smooth. Pour the mixture into a clean pot and bring to a simmer over low heat.

In a small saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is smooth and lightly golden. Stir the mixture into the simmering soup and blend well. Stir in the cream and season to taste with cayenne, salt, pepper and a splash of sherry. Add the drained oysters and simmer until they are cooked, about 4 minutes.

Ladle the soup and garnish bowls with chives, parsley and grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Note: Before adding the oysters, the soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. To serve, slowly reheat, add the oysters, cook and serve.

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