I never ate an artichoke until I was in my 20s.
Boy have I made up for my errant youth.
I love artichokes in all forms – tender marinated artichoke hearts in salads, warm and baked in a lasagna oozing with bechamel and parmesan and whole ones squished and fried as crispy as potato chips the way Romans eat them. Those are called “carciofi alla giudia” or “artichokes Jewish-style.” I once tried duplicating them at home, but my version was about as tasty as fried cardboard. I guess I’ll have to go back to Rome to properly enjoy them.
My mother-in-law introduced me to artichokes. She had a very narrow repertoire of dishes, but they were all delicious. In her case, less was more, since in limiting her range of offerings, she could make them practically blindfolded. One of her specialties was stuffed artichokes. Naturally, there was no recipe involved, so I had to pay attention while she prepared them. Over the years, I’ve made them dozens and dozens of times and if you don’t get the proportions exactly alike each time, it’s no big deal.
Here’s an approximation of what you’ll need:
For two large artichokes:
Trim the artichokes by slicing off the stem so it can stand upright in a pot. Then peel off the bottom-most leaves. Trim across all the pointy parts on the remaining leaves with a scissors or a knife, slicing off the topmost circle of leaves to make them level. If you want to, scoop out the choke in the center using a grapefruit spoon. But even if you leave the fuzzy choke inside, it will be ok. You wouldn’t want to eat it, but it will soften during cooking and you’ll be able to scrape it off and eat just the heart.
For the stuffing:
about 2 cups cubed, stale Italian or French bread, trimmed of crusts
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, optional
handful of Italian flat parsley, minced
2 cloves minced garlic, or to your taste
salt, pepper in generous amounts
With a fork, beat the egg in a bowl, and add the bread, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix in a little water until the mixture starts to stick together. Start out with just a little water at a time, maybe 1/8 cup or so. You don’t want the mixture to be sopping wet, but it shouldn’t be dry either and it should stick together. When you reach the right consistency, stuff in between the artichoke leaves.
Place in a pot with some water, or chicken broth, or water with a chicken bouillon cube. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Bring to a simmer and let the artichokes cook for about two hours with the lid on. Keep checking to make sure all the water doesn’t evaporate. After a couple of hours, test one of the leaves. If it’s not fork-tender, cook another 1/2 hour or until done.
If you find yourself in central California this May 16th or 17th, try to get to the Artichoke Festival in Castroville, known as the artichoke capital of the world. Marilyn Monroe was crowned the first Miss Artichoke Queen there in 1947.
There are lots of exhibits, artichoke samplings, wine-tastings and plenty of other entertainment too. For more information on the festival, click here. I wouldn’t make a special trip, but if you’re in the area, it’s worth a day trip. Last year, following a wedding we attended in Carmel, we drove to the festival and had lots of fun.
Castroville’s Artichoke Festival – Saturday May 16, and Sunday May 17, 2009