Posts tagged artichokes

Conundrum

chokes

OK, readers, I need some help. What am I supposed to do with this massive can of artichokes that Jim brought home for me as a surprise? I don’t know if you can get a sense of its size from the photo, but there are at least 4 cans worth of artichokes and their stems in there.

What do you think? Risotto? Pasta? Can I freeze any leftovers once they are taken out of the can? How long do canned goods last? (I know this can has been around for a while, but there isn’t an expiration date on it, and I am a little nervous about it.) Normally I’d rather cook with fresh produce, but come on, people, we can’t let all these artichokes go to waste!

Also, I need to get this can off my kitchen counter. It is taking up way too much space. Help me, please.

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Mom’s Stuffed Artichokes

Stuffed artichokes grace my parents’ dining room table on almost every major holiday, as well as special dinners and parties in between. My parents even have a specific platter for them, a delicately-painted ceramic plate with indentations for eight of these green globes, inherited from my Sicilian grandmother. Thanks to my Southern Italian mother and her formidable artichoke-related skills, my family has eaten more of these spindly vegetables than I can count. We are addicted to artichokes.

chokes_pre

Despite my love for my mother’s stuffed artichokes, I had never attempted to make them until a few weeks ago, when artichokes were actually in season. Jim and I were having two friends over for dinner, and it was time to put Mom’s recipe to the test. I picked up my cell phone, scrolled down to my parents’ number, and pressed the call button.

“Um, hi, Mom? Do you have a sec? How do you make your stuffed artichokes? Are they difficult?” I asked. “And will they be ready by 8 o’clock?”

And so began a half hour or so of phone calls. We talked about her ingredients for the stuffing (breadcrumbs, parsley, and Parmesan cheese are the main components); measurements (“I don’t know, I always just eyeball it”); and cooking time (“Not less than 40 minutes”). I also learned that her stuffed artichokes are steamed, not baked, and that they are best served at room temperature. Too much parsley is never a problem, and if I felt like mixing things up I could add a bit of prosciutto to the basic stuffing. I hung up the phone after our third call, started trimming the chokes, and hoped that some of Mom’s artichoke skills had been transmitted to me in the womb.

chokes_after

For my first attempt, the chokes were a simple and luxurious hit, especially since I had guessed most of the measurements for the ingredients. The moist, flavored breadcrumbs complemented the silky leaves with every bite. As I scraped each leaf with my teeth and made my way down to the choke at the center, I wondered how they compared to my mother’s. Maybe I did inherit some of her artichoke-related gifts after all. 

Recipe for Mom’s Stuffed Artichokes

  • 4 medium artichokes
  • 3/4 – 1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs (store-bought are fine for this recipe)
  • 3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons fresh, finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • salt 
  • pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into quarters
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the stuffing: Mix the breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic powder, and a bit of salt and pepper together in a bowl. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and mix together. Set aside.

Lay each artichoke on its side and cut off the pointy tops with a sharp knife. Cut off the artichoke stems and peel them. Set aside. After cutting off the stems, your artichokes should be able to sit on their flat bottoms. Tear off the tough outer leaves at the base of each choke. With a pair of scissors, cut off the pointy tops of the remaining outer leaves. (If you work quickly, you don’t need to set each artichoke aside in lemon-infused water.)

Working from the center of each artichoke towards the outer leaves, start stretching the leaves out a bit, to create more space between them. Stuff the breadcrumb mixture in between as many leaves as possible. Fill the openings with as much stuffing as possible. 

Sit the 4 artichokes and their stems in a high-sided sauté pan or large pot. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the artichokes. Add about 1/4 cup water—enough to cover the bottom of the pan and a bit more—to the pot, add the lemons, and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 40 minutes, adding water as necessary if the pot dries out. The artichokes are done when their color has changed to a less vibrant green and you can easily pull their leaves out.

You can keep these artichokes and their stems on a platter on the stovetop until you are ready to serve them that day. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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Artichokes for the Choke

When a fruit or vegetable is in season in Italy, you know it. It takes center stage in every type of dish, from the simplest antipasto to the richest, boldest entree. Depending on the time of year, I could be talking about zucchini, tomatoes, or mushrooms. I just happened to get lucky last week. I was visiting Florence during artichoke season.

chokes

Can you believe it? I couldn’t. The sun was shining, the air smelled of springtime, and my favorite vegetable—carciofo in Italian—was absolutely everywhere. From fried artichoke hearts to whole globes stuffed with breadcrumbs, I have never encountered one I didn’t adore.

I started noticing the ubiquitous choke at my hotel’s restaurant. As I perused the menu on the first night, I realized that almost every other dish contained some sort of artichoke option. Among the appetizers were listed both an artichoke tart and grilled octopus with artichokes and citrus fruit. The secondi included a beef tagliata with an artichoke salad, and sea bass with artichokes, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes. Although they all sounded amazing, I felt like having pasta. I turned to the primi and chose the spaghetti al “macco” di carciofi, which translates to spaghetti with a sort of pureed artichoke sauce.

macco_adjusted

A perfectly cooked mound of al dente pasta coated with a creamy, smooth sauce of concentrated artichoke delight was placed in front of me. Rich yet light at the same time, this was possibly the best dish I encountered during my trip. I ate it two nights in a row before I forced myself to consider other items on the menu.

risotto_adjusted

At lunch one day I was confronted with another choke-based meal, this time in a risotto. For a few moments I wondered if I was going too crazy for carciofi, but I couldn’t resist them. Whole, tender artichoke hearts cooked with firm Arborio rice created a simple and satisfying mid-day treat. It wasn’t perfect—in fact, it was slightly too salty—but the creamy chokes still did themselves proud.

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For my last meal in Florence I seriously considered getting that amazing spaghetti for the third time. In the end I decided to branch out to the secondi and try the beef tagliata with the artichoke salad. This time, the chokes were served raw and dressed simply with vinegar, acting as a crisp, refreshing accent to the rather rare fillet of beef that I received. 

I’m still thinking back to the intense artichoke-related joy I experienced last week. As has been said before and seen here, Italians know the true meaning of eating locally and seasonally. It’s kind of ironic that I had to fly to Italy to experience it, but I was more than up to the task. For my carciofi I’d do almost anything.

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Pizza and Freedom, via Di Fara’s

Although Jim and I love strolling around Brooklyn, we recently took another step forward on the path to adulthood and bought a car. I already have several excursions to new restaurants and neighborhoods in mind. In fact, Jim and I didn’t wait long before we made our first one. As soon as we signed the bill of sale on Friday, we fastened our seatbelts, turned the key in the ignition, and drove straight from the car dealership to nearby Di Fara’s in Midwood, Brooklyn.

Di Fara\'s Pizza

Like many New Yorkers, I had read that Di Fara’s serves the best pizza in the city. Its fans are pretty convincing, directing their enthusiastic praise towards the seventyish-year-old Domenico De Marco, who has been making his thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pies in this gritty corner shop for over 40 years. He personally rolls out the dough and assembles the ingredients for each pizza in front of the eternal hungry masses waiting at his counter. 

When Jim and I walked up to the shop on Friday night around 7 pm, I was expecting a line out the door. But the scene was eerily quiet, with only a faithful few stalking the counter while De Marco worked his magic in a white apron and newsboy cap. He started by slowly and deliberately pushing dough for a new pie into a circle. Next he carefully spooned San Marzano tomatoes, three types of grated mozzarella cheese, and parmigiano reggiano onto its surface before drizzling olive oil from a copper kettle on top. When the cooked pie emerged from the massive steel oven, De Marco reached for a plastic container of fresh basil, snipped some fresh leaves with a pair of scissors, and sprinkled them across the pizza’s surface. He also applied a second dose of olive oil across the pie. Once it was boxed up, the cycle began again with a new batch of dough.

Instead of ordering a pie, Jim and I decided to order our own slices with different toppings. We sat in the green-hued, rather grungy room and silently sipped our Cokes with the rest of the eager patrons. My first slice of plain arrived in a few minutes. As soon as I bit into it, I noticed the sharpness of the parmigiano cheese ($4). The crust was thin and light, the sauce sweet and fresh. But if I have to be honest, I enjoyed my slice with artichoke hearts more than the plain, and not just because I love artichokes ($6). It came to me piping hot, with the hearts tender, fresh, and silky.

Artichoke Heart Pizza at Di Fara\'s

I’m already planning my next visit, when I will order a full pie. I’m trying to figure out whether to go with the classic round or the Sicilian-style square. If being an adult with a car means I can get to Di Fara’s anytime I want, then I’ll happily accept it.

Di Fara Pizza, 1424 Avenue J between 14th and 15th Streets, in Midwood, Brooklyn. T: 718-258-1367. You don’t need a car to get there; take the Q train to the Avenue J stop, and the shop is about a block away.

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