by Kate Heyhoe
Unless you live in areas where artichokes are harvested by the truckload, chances are you pay a dear price for them—even during their peak season, which runs in North America from March through May. Consequently, many people enjoy artichokes only a few times a year, never venturing beyond the melted butter or vinaigrette routine to explore other savory ways to experience this prickly but uniquely flavored thistle.
That is, of course, unless you're Italian. In Italy, the artichoke is so plentiful and inexpensive that creative recipes abound. Baby artichokes have such tender chokes that they are cooked whole, often braised or battered and fried. Cooks discard artichoke leaves uneaten from hefty globes, just to get to the sweetest treasure of the plant, the heart. Diners feast on platters of grilled artichokes glistening with olive oil and lemon juice, artichoke hearts browned with a cheese gratin, or medium globes simmered with lamb and herbs. But in most cases outside of Italy, the artichoke is still served either as a side dish or as an added ingredient in a main recipe.
For a simple meal or a festive party, I prefer to make the artichoke the center of my plate by serving Seasoned Stuffed Artichokes accompanied by a mixed antipasto platter. One medium artichoke may not seem adequate as a main course entree, but when a mixture of golden bread crumbs, garlic, aged cheese, and olive oil are packed between the leaves and steamed with lemon until the aromatic flavors of the stuffing and artichoke bond, the result is stupendous—and hearty enough to compete with any traditional entree.
An antipasto, meaning "before the pasta," usually comes before an Italian meal, as an appetizer or hors d'oeuvre. An antipasto platter may include sliced cured meats and salamis, olives, cheese, roasted peppers, marinated vegetables, grilled vegetables and other tasty bits. When I serve my Seasoned Stuffed Artichokes, I find that an assortment of these small dishes around the side adds color, contrast and variety, without over-expanding the meal itself. And for the cook, this is an easy party presentation, as most of the antipasti can come directly from a good Italian deli, ready to simply arrange and serve. Pass out the napkins, put the artichoke in the center of the plate, and pass the antipasti on the side. Ecco la! Mangiamo!
by Kate Heyhoe
This recipe serves 2, but if your pot is large enough, double the ingredients to serve 4 (you can also use medium-size artichokes instead of large ones). You'll need a pot large enough to hold the artichokes upright, with a lid.
1/2 cup dry, seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, or mix
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
black pepper to taste
2 large artichokes (about 10 to 12 ounces each)
1 lemon, cut in half
1. Mix together the bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, olive oil and pepper and set aside.
2. Squeeze 1/2 lemon's juice into a bowl of water. Rub the exposed areas of the artichokes as you cut them with the remaining lemon half. When the artichokes are completely trimmed, drop them in the water until ready to stuff.
3. Trim the artichokes: Slice off the top 1-inch or so of the artichokes. Trim away the pointed ends of the artichoke leaves. Evenly cut the stem off the artichokes at the base so the artichokes stand upright, and throw the cut stem in the cooking pot (it helps flavor the cooking water).
Using your fingers, open up the leaves of each artichoke to get to the choke. Use a melon baller or teaspoon to scrape out the fuzzy area and the small, sharp leaves in the very center of the choke.
4. Stuff the artichokes: Stand the artichokes in a pot deep enough to hold them. If the artichoke leaves are tightly packed, loosen them slightly with your fingers. Spoon the bread crumb mixture loosely between the leaves and into the center of the artichokes. (Don't pack the mixture—it becomes too dense and mushy when packed.)
5. Add enough water to the pot to come 3/4 inch up the sides of the artichokes. Squeeze in the juice from the remaining lemon half. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer until the choke is easily pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. Serve the artichokes warm or at room temperature.
Suggested antipasti accompaniments: Roasted red bell pepper strips, prosciutto, marinated mushrooms, sliced or cherry tomatoes, grilled sausages, a green salad with a slightly sweet, balsamic dressing, roasted eggplant salad, tuna and cannellini beans.
Variations: Change the stuffing by adding porcini or other mushrooms, prosciutto, salami, ham, cooked Italian sausage or ground lamb, olives, fresh herbs, anchovies, green onions, smoked cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts or use fresh bread crumbs lightly toasted in olive oil.
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