Monday, June 05, 2006

Stuffed Artichokes

As you can see from the photo, dear daughter and I couldn't wait to tear into our artichokes - they were THAT good.

When I bought these two beautiful artichokes, the checker and bagger didn't know what they were, and the checker actually got pinched by the thorns. Poor folks.... artichokes are kind of like mother's milk to me. I remarked to DD in the car on the way home that I bet that my little cousin Erin, three years old, ate her artichoke on Easter.

And this brings me to the comfort food quotient of artichokes. My mother's family is Italian, and every holiday, especially Easter, we ate stuffed artichokes. They were quite a delicacy as I was growing up in New England. When we moved to San Jose, CA, just 50 miles from the artichoke capital of the world, Castroville, my folks and I would drive to the growers and have them ship a flat of perfect, just-picked artichokes home to B Street. There was something about choosing each artichoke that made us feel more connected and less homesick at holiday time.

So, when spring rolls around and the first artichokes show up in the stores, my heartstrings always tug a little with the remembrance of times and people long gone. Especially my grandmother and my aunties. And just as I always buy the first jonquils for my mother, even now when she is gone, I always buy the early artichokes and cook them and then eat them in memory of those women that I love so much. Later in the season, I'll buy tiny artichokes and boil them for dipping in hollandaise, but the first artichokes of the season are always, always stuffed.

Try them, you'll like them!

Stuffed Artichokes

As many artichokes as you can fit in your pan
lots of breadcrumbs
lots of parmesan
salt and pepper
lots of garlic powder
lots of Italian seasoning
A good glug of olive oil

To prepare the artichokes, first you have to cut the stem off the bottom so that they stand upright. Peel the stem with a small, sharp knife - it is delicious. Next, put the artichoke on its side and cut about an inch from the top - this will remove the thorns that jut from the top of the choke. Use a kitchen shears to snip off the thorny tips of the remaining leaves. If you are feeling very adventurous, use a spoon to dig out the choke. I never bother with this. Place the artichokes in acidulated water to keep them from turning brown while you get the breadcrumbs together. (If you don't want to make your own breadcrumbs, buy Progresso brand Italian flavored breadcrumbs - they are delicious.)

Make sure that the bread is thoroughly dried out and hard, then whiz in the processor till you have about 1 C breadcrumbs per artichoke. For each cup of breadcrumbs, mix in about 3 or 4 oz grated parmesan, about 1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp salt.

Sit one of the artichokes up in a dinner plate and using a teaspoon, shove as much breadcrumbs into each leaf as you can. No need to be particularly neat about this, just keep shoving breadcrumbs in. If you dug the choke out, you will have a nice pocket in the middle to put a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs. mmmm..... I love that part. Continue till all the artichokes are stuffed. Place them in a large pot with a tight fitting lid and drizzle a lot of olive oil all over, wetting down the breadcrumbs. (I never said this was a diet recipe!) Carefully pour in water about 3/4 of the way up the artichokes. Wedge them in together so that they won't fall over on their sides when the water begins to simmer - use a coffee mug if you need a place holder. Cover tightly and gently simmer for about an hour. You will know they are done when one of the inner leaves pulls out with just gentle pressure.

To eat, just pull the leaves between your teeth, scraping the flesh and the stuffing into your mouth. Yum yum yum. When you get to the choke, pull the thorny inner most leaves off, then pull the hair-like cilia off. What is left is a thick disk of artichokey goodness that is tender and tasty...... sigh.... Its heaven!

I wish we hadn't eaten every last bit so that I could nosh on some stuffed artichoke right now.

Notes: When I moved to California, I was flabbergasted to see artichoke plants at the local Home Depot, and I bought four which I promptly planted in front of my house. I figured who needed a hedge when you could have artichokes! Artichokes are beautiful, silvery grayish green foliage, and if you let one artichoke go to flower, you will have the most spectacular purple-blue thistle that you have every seen - 6 or 8 inches across! Spectacular! Every year, I would let one go to flower. But I ate the rest. The first artichoke is the biggest one, and each subsequent one is smaller and smaller. Artichokes are perennials; mine produced each year for about five years until I moved away. I wonder if they will grow in Georgia? Posted by Picasa


Jean F. said...

I was browsing blogs and happened onto yours this morning. When I saw this recipe for stuffed artichokes it brought back memories of the ones my Sicilian grandmother used to make. Hers were pretty much like yours but she added a few capers to the breadcrumbs and that made it very tasty. Just thought I would share that -- you might want to try it.

Minaverse said...

A glug of oil, shoving breadcrumbs in... I LOVE IT!
It's messy to make & eat & I adore them. Making some as I write. I add capers, hot crushed pepper and a couple of chopped raisins. Thanks!