Italian Stuffed Artichokes


Italian Stuffed Artichokes

Spring is a wonderful time of year, when everything in the garden bursts into life and full of vigour. One of the most interesting vegetables to become available are globe artichokes (a member of the thistle family). The plant has been cultivated for thousands of years and its tender young flower buds are eaten with relish around the world, especially the inner-most centre of the bud which has a sweet, delicate flavour and is generally known as the heart.

LHF Artichoke 1 23 Oct 2015
There are two varieties of globe artichokes, the rounder squat variety which is generally all green in colour and the longer slender variety which is predominately purple, both have an identical taste. On Little Hill Farm, we currently have a bumper crop and shall be enjoying this delicate vegetable for the next few weeks, whilst at their prime.

This recipe is a very traditional method of preparing globe artichokes in Italy. Each family may have its own specific twist on the recipe but the method for all is roughly the same. The artichokes are de-thorned and washed before being stuffed either with a meat based filling or a herb/cheese based crumb and then cooked. In my mother’s region of Italy, they are generally poached in a rich Italian red sauce whereas northwards they are commonly baked.

LHF Artichoke 4 23 Oct 2015

Italian Stuffed Artichokes

Serves 4

Ingredients – stuffing

4 to 8 globe artichokes (the smaller the artichokes the sweeter and more flesh in the choke)
250 grams beef or veal mince
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1/2 large onion – finely diced
1 garlic clove – minced
4 or 5 stalks of fresh herbs (finely chopped) – parsley, basil and/or oregano all work well.
2 eggs
salt and pepper

Ingredients – sauce

1/2 large onion – finely diced
1 garlic clove – minced
1/2 red capsicum – diced
750 mi bottle of passata tomato sauce
150 gram tin diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup water or dry white wine

If you can’t get passata you can always used tinned diced tomatoes, the sauce simply needs to be cooked a little longer so it thickens and intensifies the tomato flavour.

LHF Artichoke 3 23 Oct 2015

Method

  1. De-thorn the artichokes – each petal (bract of the flower head) has a small thorn. Using sharp scissors cut each of the thorns away for each artichoke petal. Pay special attention to the inner-most petals. If the artichoke has a long stem cut it to 1 or 2 centimetres in length from the base.
  2. Wash the artichokes well, pushing your fingers gently between the petals especially those at the centre of the flower head and then place in a bowl of salted water with a little lemon juice (this will stop the artichokes turning brown where they have been cut).
  3. Mix all the stuffing ingredients together so it becomes a soft pliable mixture and set aside momentarily.
  4. Prepare the sauce next, by placing a heavy based pot on the stove and heat to a medium temperature. Add the onion, garlic and capsicum and cook until softened. Then add the passata, diced tomatoes, dried herbs, salt and pepper and cook until it commences to boil. Once boiling add the water/wine and remove from heat making sure to place a tight fitting lid on the pot.
  5. Take an artichoke from the water and allow any excess water to drain. Take small amounts of the stuffing and gently push it into each of the petals of the flower head, working your way from the outermost petals to the centre. Once you arrive at the centre region of the head, where the petals are tightly packed simple create an opening and stuff with a golf ball size of stuffing. Set artichoke aside and fill the remaining chokes.
  6. Once all the artichokes have been filled, return the sauce pot to the stove and place the individual artichokes (base down) in the sauce. Cook over a low heat for 30 minutes until the artichokes are steamed and cooked through. Larger artichokes may require extra cooking time say 45 minutes. If the sauce dries out to much or the artichokes begin to stick and burn add some extra water.
  7. To serve spoon 1 or 2 artichokes onto a plate or shallow bowl, top with a little of the red sauce and garnish with fresh herbs and/or grated parmesan.

The only way to eat artichokes made this way is to use your hands. Take one petal at a time and eat the bottom section of the petal and the stuffing. The outer bracts will be tougher than the centre bracts so it is more common to scrap the petal between your teeth to get at the sweet tender flesh of the petal. As you move closer to the centre you can eat more and more of the flower bracts.

The best part of the artichoke will be the inner-most centre and the inner base of the flower head – the heart. It is very sweet and delicious – a true culinary experience.

It is important to ensure that every dinner has a finger bowl and a napkin to wipe their fingers whilst eating this dish. You may also like to place a communal spent petal bowl on the table to receive the un-edible parts of the flower head as they are scrapped, sucked and savoured.

LHF Artichoke 5 23 Oct 2015

Finally, if there is any red sauce left in the pot, it is excellent as a sauce for pasta or with some steamed rice.

Enjoy – the mess is well worth it.