Posts tagged side dishes

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.


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.


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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Farmers’ Market Find: Zucchini Flowers

August celebrates the apex of summer and its abundance of fruits and vegetables. Corn, tomatoes, sweet peaches and plums, they’re all in season right now. And zucchini. How can we forget about the zucchini?

It’s everywhere these days. For the past few weeks I’ve been sautéing it and tossing it with pasta, grilling long, thin strips of it in my stovetop grill pan, and baking it into bread. I didn’t think there was anything left for me to do with it, but then I came across a box of zucchini flowers at my local farmers’ market.

These delicate, yellow-orange blossoms were too tempting to leave behind. They can be cooked in a variety of ways, but I was most familiar with two Italian preparations for fiori di zucca: They can be fried, which is how my mother makes them, or they can be stuffed with a cheese filling and fried, as Jim and I recently saw on Jamie Oliver’s wonderful cooking show, Jamie at Home.

(If you can’t already tell, there’s no escaping the frying involved with this project. Just go with it.)

Zucchini blossoms are not hard to work with, but they should be cooked right away and they need to be handled gently. Interestingly, they come in female and male versions, with the females attached directly to the zucchini and the males growing on a separate stem. 

After watching Oliver’s program for guidance, we stuffed the blossoms with a filling of fresh ricotta, basil, and lemon zest. Similar to the versatile stuffed chard leaves I made a few weeks ago, a variety of cheese-based fillings could work in this recipe. Next we dipped the flowers and zucchini into our Oliver-inspired batter, threw them into a batch of hot olive oil, and fried away.

Jim and I wound up with too many fried zucchini flowers for just the two of us, but no matter. We did our best, crunching our way through the hot, browned batter to the creamy, lemony ricotta filling hiding within. The flower petals added a fresh sweetness in the midst of the crisp coating and lush cheese center. I wonder what August will bring us next. And more importantly, can it be fried?

Recipe for Fried Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Lemon Basil Ricotta (adapted from the television program Jamie at Home)

  • 8 zucchini flowers and any attached zucchini
  • 1/2 lb of fresh ricotta (do not use packaged supermarket ricotta)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped basil
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 bottle white wine
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • pepper

Prepare the flowers: Gently rinse the zucchini flowers. Spread the petals open to reveal the bulbous pistil or stamen inside, at the base of each blossom. Remove it from each flower with a paring knife.

Prepare the filling: Combine the ricotta, basil, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Fill the flowers: Take a plastic freezer bag and scoop the filling into it. Cut off one of the bottom corners of the bag to create a type of pastry bag. Open each blossom, spread the petals back gently, and squeeze a small amount of the ricotta filling inside—you should be able to fit a couple of tablespoons of filling inside each flower. Fold the petals over each other to seal the filling in the flowers. Don’t worry if they look messy or don’t seal perfectly.

Make the batter: Be sure to make this batter after you prep the flowers. You don’t want to the batter to sit around and start to thicken. Combine the flour, baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon of salt in a mixing bowl. Slowly add the white wine while mixing your dry ingredients. The batter is ready when it resembles a thick, liquidy pancake batter.

Fry the flowers: In a large, high-sided skillet or Dutch oven, heat your olive oil. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of your pan and the flowers. 

When the oil is hot and shimmering, dip the flowers in the batter, let the excess batter drip back into the bowl, and add them to pan. They should sizzle quickly and start to brown. When deeply browned on all sides, remove the flowers from the oil and set them on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

Serve immediately. Recipe serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer. Enjoy! 

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