I first appreciated the process of consuming a whole artichoke ten years ago. A friend of mine from choir invited me over for a homemade Italian feast. I knew this was the real deal when I saw drying linguini draped over his couch and a pile of thirty bright red Roma tomatoes sitting on his kitchen counter. Take note husband and family members who crave my red spaghetti sauce. This was the guy who taught me how to make it – and the importance of lots of garlic, slow cooking, the perfect tomatoes. Really, it was a short-lived friendship that pretty much changed my entire experience of eating and making Italian food. This particular gentleman had learned Italian cooking from his grandmother in the old country, and it was he who shared with me how the whole artichoke – sometimes enjoyed as an expensive delicacy here which I purchased at a premium at the organic grocer – is one of Southern Italy’s ultimate peasant vegetables. They abound in the wild in Sardinia all year round and have so many hidden but deliciously edible parts.
With his dish – stuffed artichoke – I learned how to peel back each individual leaf and use my teeth to scrape the meat from the bottom, working my way to the very bottom leaves. Then I scraped off the choke, finishing with the heart of the artichoke. I loved it – the process, the grassy lemony flavors melding with the stuffing. It was easy to see how this was a dish suited to poor families trying to stretch the most out of their meals. It took us nearly a half an hour to complete the dish and start the next course.
While I loved this process, it hasn’t struck me as the first dish I’d try to make my family – we all live in the 21st century and with a screaming kid I can’t remember the last time that we actually had thirty minutes to enjoy a single course. More likely we get all the food to the table and stuff our faces. I bet my husband is asking who in their right mind would eat such a thing as a whole artichoke? Well, T, you would eat one. And you did.
Why else is an artichoke great? Apparently it aids digestion from its high fiber content and has especially high amounts of vitamin C, folic acid, and magnesium. That must make it a superfood during pregnancy!
Last week I picked up two artichokes at the grocery store, intending to repeat the dish I had so enjoyed many years ago. Here is my Indian twist on a recipe I found in the Moosewood Collective’s excellent Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant.
Succulent Stuffed Artichoke
2 medium artichokes
2 Tbsp white vinegar
2/3 cup chopped parsley
2/3 cup dried toasted bread crumbs (I used homemade bread crumbs but I am sure panko works well)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
large pinch of red chilli powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon dried cumin powder
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill a large stainless steel pot with water (enough to cover the artichokes about halfway). Bring to a boil.
Prepping the artichokes: Rinse the artichokes with several washes of water – the bigger the artichoke the more likely it is to be holding dirt or bugs, so wash well! Peel off the bottom layer of small leaves from the stem of the artichoke. Snip the thorny tips off the leaves of the artichokes (see the photo at the top for the prepped artichoke) and about 1/2 inch off the top of the artichoke. Trim the stem slightly so that the artichokes are stable upright.
Pre-cooking the artichokes: Add vinegar to the pot of boiling water and add the artichokes in upright. Cover the pot and lower the heat to a simmer, allowing the artichokes to cook for 25-30 minutes until just tender. The artichokes will likely become a bit dull in color, although vinegar will help retain some of the brightness. While the artichokes are cooking prepare your stuffing.
Stuffing: Lightly mix together chopped parsley, bread crumbs, and spices in a large bowl.
Filling the artichokes: gently spread the leaves out and carefully and delicately spread out the leaves from the center of the artichoke so that you can work your way slowly to the tiny center leaves of the choke. If you are lazy like me, next just go ahead and start to fill the artichoke, putting some in the center and then leaf by leaf with a small amount of stuffing. When you are finished, then gently push the leaves back into a more closed position.
For the more ambitious who do not want to put your diners to as much work: Prior to filling the artichoke with your stuffing, gently pull apart all the most central tiny leaves and follow the Moosewood Collective’s instructions to scrape off the fuzzy choke first before stuffing!
Cooking the artichokes: Place the artichokes in an oven-safe dish and squeeze the lemon juice over them ( no seeds please!) and a sprinkling of olive oil. Bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 25 minutes – till hot! And serve.
How to eat the artichoke: You can always look up a video on this one, but if you want to read how to do it — pull off each leaf from the artichoke and put it with stuffing side down in your mouth and scrape the stuffing and eat the tiny soft bottom part of the leaf. Discard the tough external leaf portions. Keep eating, leaf by leaf. Once you get toward the middle you may find tiny totally edible leaves – go ahead and eat them! When you get down past the leaves toward the base of the artichoke you will find a fuzzy ring call the choke (if you did not remove the choke beforehand). It is thorny and sharp (usually) so don’t eat that part. Scrape it off with a spoon (gently) and then get to working on enjoying the delicious heart. And please do not neglect the stem – you don’t have to eat the tough parts, but to my mind the stem tastes better than the heart. It is delicious!