Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Italian Stuffed Artichokes

I just got a call from my darling daughter-in-law, Tiffany, asking me how to cook artichokes.  Let me just say that I am always thrilled to hear from her, but this time I was both thrilled and stunned, because Tiffany's mom, Janet, is the very famous and accomplished food blogger of SIMPLY SO GOOD.  Let me just say that, if you are unaware of this blog, you must check it out immediately at www.simplysogood.com. You will not believe her amazing food, her dazzling, magazine-looking photography (which routinely gets stolen), and her step-by-step instructions.
So... why would Tiffany call anyone else for recipe help, right?  She has the world's foremost expert for her MOM, for heaven's sake.  Well, it turns out they are not artichoke eaters!  And I, living in the nation's agriculture capitol, California, eat all kinds of stuff folks in other states find a little "iffy."  Not all people like fish tacos, guacamole, sushi, and a host of other fad foods that are slowly working their way across the country, but which were first popularized on the West Coast.  Our farmers' markets have pink mushrooms, four kinds of persimmons, stuff you'd never find in some places.  And we are the Artichoke Capital of the world, where Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1947, after all.
So we know a thing or two about how to cook them.  Here's a great way to enjoy a scary vegetable that's not only delicious but easy to cook:

4 large artichokes (not the baby ones)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Cup seasoned Italian bread crumbs
1 Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese from a chilled tub (not from a green can)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. freshly minced basil leaves (or 1 tsp. dried basil)
1 tsp. dried oregano
salt & pepper
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1. Snip the pointy ends from all the leaves, and cut an inch off the top.  Cut off the bottom stem as well.
Rinse in cold water. Brush with lemon juice to preserve color.  (If you plan to dip the cooked leaves in mayonnaise, as many do, skip step 2).
2. Turn the artichoke upside down (stem side up) and hit it against the counter top to make the leaves open for stuffing.  In a large bowl, stir bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, and HALF the oil (or use your favorite stuffing recipe).  Press spoonfuls of stuffing into spaces between leaves.
3. Pack artichokes tightly in a dutch oven or large soup pot (not aluminum, as that will discolor them).  Make sure they are stem-side-down.  Add enough water to come halfway up the artichokes. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour (less time if you cook fewer artichokes).  You'll know the artichokes are done when a leaf pulls off easily.
4. Serve with a dipping sauce if you wish-- melted butter or mayonnaise with a bit a lemon is good-- and the proper way to eat them is honestly to scrape the leaves against your bottom teeth, then set aside the paper-thin part of the leaf. (These are sometimes called petals).  Once the leaves are gone, dig out the choke (the hairy part) at the base, using a spoon.  Discard this; it's inedible.  But UNDER the choke is the filet of the artichoke, the heart.  Cut it up and eat it-- it's the very best part!  Artichokes are yummy hot, cold, or at room temperature.  Serves 4.

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