My family is obsessed with artichokes. Fried, stuffed with breadcrumbs, sautéed with pasta, baby- or full-size, we’ve done it all. My husband even refers to them as “grillochokes,” in honor of the Grillo’s intense love for these pointy vegetables. Look at the name of this blog, for heaven’s sake. Lately artichokes have been on display everywhere in my neighborhood, slyly beckoning me with their green-hued freshness.
When I could no longer resist them, I decided to call in the big guns: my mother. I needed an intense artichoke tutorial, and with her Southern-Italian background and years of artichoke experience, she’s the ultimate authority on the subject. I left the agenda up to her.
As my parents walked through our apartment door on Sunday, Mom declared that we would make fried baby artichoke hearts. A crafty decision on her part, as Jim is not as big a fan of the humble choke as the rest of us. But by frying them Mom greatly increased the possibility that Jim would partake in our artichoke feast. As I said, she’s quite crafty.
We got down to business. First she cut off the pointy top of one of the baby artichokes she had brought with her. (Yes, I am 33-years-old and my mother sometimes buys me groceries. Let’s focus on the cooking, shall we?) Then she stripped away most of the leaves until she reached the tender heart.
We split the heart in half, and scraped away the fuzzy center. As we moved from choke to choke, we set them in a bowl of water with some lemons, so that they wouldn’t turn brown before we finished cleaning the rest of them. I had read about this step many times but had never done it because I am lazy. But it really works. It just goes to show, Mom always knows best.
As we labored over the chokes, my mom told me about my grandfather’s vineyard back in San Severo, Italy, where her family used to grow artichokes and eat them as a treat before they moved here. I also learned that my father’s Sicilian family constantly ate artichokes when he was growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, so we most likely inherited our obsession from them. Who knew?
After we finished cleaning and cutting all the artichokes, we drained them, dried them off, dredged them in flour, and fried them up.
As the artichokes drained on top of a paper towel, we sprinkled them with a little salt, and finally….we tasted them. They were light, fresh, and tender, almost silky in their texture. Jim had cooked up some fantastic steaks stuffed with a gorgonzola pesto that went wonderfully with our chokes. Even Jim enjoyed them, and had multiple servings. He will deny having an artichoke-related breakthrough, but we all know what happened. There were multiple witnesses.
We ended our dinner with Jamie Oliver’s Torta di More, a tart filled with sweet mascarpone cream infused with grappa and topped with blackberries. I had wanted to make this ever since I received Jamie’s Italy for Christmas, and it was as good as it looked in the picture. Even better, in fact.
So that was our artichoke-infused Sunday. Some veggies, some steaks, a tart, and some family history. A very nice way to spend the day, in my opinion.
Recipe for Fried Artichoke Hearts
- 9 baby artichokes
- extra virgin olive oil
- flour (enough for dredging)
Start by cutting the top off of the artichoke, creating a flat surface showing the concentric rings of leaves spiraling out from the choke. Then strip away the tough outer leaves, continuing until you reach the softer leaves of the vegetable. You will wind up with more leaves in your garbage pail than left on the vegetable. You can test the softness of the leaves by biting them (my mother’s trick). If they are soft and chewy, you’ve gone far enough. Scrape away the outer surface of the stem as well. We left the stems long, but you can trim them shorter if you like.
Cut the choke in half, and scrape away the soft, stringy center. Then cut the heart into quarters, and place it in a bowl of water with cut-up lemons. Squeeze some lemon juice into the water as well. Repeat these steps with the rest of the artichokes until all are finished.
When all the artichokes are cleaned, drain them and dry them in a dishtowel. Fill a deep-sided sauté pan about 1/2 full with olive oil, and start heating it under medium heat. Dredge the artichoke quarters thoroughly in flour. When the oil is hot, add the artichoke hearts in small batches.
Turn the chokes every once in a while, frying them until they are well-browned. This can take about 5 to 10 minutes per batch. When they are done, drain the oil onto paper towels. Sprinkle with salt, and serve immediately. Serves 4 as a side dish. Enjoy!