6 medium-sized uncooked whole artichokes*
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 white onion, coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 large russet potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 cups good-quality chicken stock
1/3 cups hazelnuts (filberts)
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1/3 cup Armagnac (cognac or dry brandy may be substituted)
* Check out How to purchase, store, prepare, cook, and eat artichokes (with photos). You could substitute frozen artichoke hearts, if desired.
Cut the top halves of the artichokes off and discard. Trim the stems flush with the bottoms. Peel back the outer leaves and discard, until you reach the pale green inner leaves. Peel back the leaves and, using a spoon, scoop out the prickly choke and discard. Cut each artichoke into eights; set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and celery; saute approximately 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown. Add the artichokes, chopped potato, and chicken stock; bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until slightly thickened and the flavors have blended, approximately 45 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and spread the warm nuts on a kitchen towel. Cover with another kitchen towel and rub gently against the nuts to remove as much of the skins as possible. Let cool, then coarsely chop and set aside.
Working in small batches, transfer the soup to a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Blend or process on high speed until smooth and creamy, approximately 1 minute.
Strain the pureed soup through a fine-mesh sieve back into the saucepan to remove any fibers. Add the salt, white pepper, cream, and Armagnac; bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to mix well.
Ladle the soup into warmed soup bowls and sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts. Serve immediately.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.