Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Beautiful Stuffed Artichoke

The artichoke. So beautiful, so innocent, yet it can bring out the worst in people. Several members of our family have their opinions about how to stuff an artichoke. Some holidays become an artichoke showdown with several versions appearing on the table and then a silent survey ensues with eyes closely watching which dish disappears first. (All dishes usually disappear fast and furiously!)  Then, of course, there is the art of eating an artichoke. I am known in my family to obliterate the leaves, by first scraping off the stuffing between my teeth and then chewing on the leaf to make sure I get every bit of flavor. (I try not to do this when eating out, but I'm not always successful.) For me, eating an artichoke is a journey, feeling that with each leaf I am one step closer to getting to the soft, delicious, pale green heart. And more often than not, just when I have carefully removed “the beard,” someone sweeps in from behind me with a fork and proclaims, “This is the best part!” Oh well, guess I’ll just have to start on another…  — Diana

No matter how you stuff an artichoke, the preparation is important and mostly universal:
• Cut off the stem
• Slice off the top and snips the points off each leaf
• Clean the artichoke under running water, spreading the leaves
• Let artichokes drain upside down on paper towel

Here are a few stuffing variations:

My friend Kathy made stuffed artichokes when were in LBI for Fourth of July weekend. They were delicious, and going into the garden to pick fresh basil and oregano (yes, she has a small garden in her backyard on the bay) made it even better!

For 3 large artichokes:
2 cups Italian style breadcrumbs
8 cloves of garlic, minced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 cup grated romano or parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
A sprig of fresh oregano and basil (optional)
8 tbsp salted butter

Mix together everything but the butter and herbs. Stuff each artichoke with mixture and pack it in good!

Put the artichokes in a large pot with a few inches of water on the bottom. Add the other clove of garlic to the water along with the herb sprigs.

Put 2 tbsp of butter on the top of each artichoke. Cover the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes (depending on size of artichoke) or until the middle leaves pull out easily

Baste every 10 minutes or so throughout the cooking process. e' buonissimo! (She actually said that...she's studying Italian.)

My grandmother’s stuffing is similar to Kathy’s only she adds olive oil to the stuffing to make it more like a paste, therefore you don’t need the butter on top. She also uses a pressure cooker, which makes the leaves extra tender. So if you want to forgo all the butter, add some olive oil to the stuffing and cook as usual.

Joan (lovingly referred to as Ms. P by the family) is my sister's mother-in-law, and we can always count on her to bring a tray of stuffed artichokes to the Thanksgiving and Christmas table. Here's her stuffing:
White mushroom stems, finely chopped
Italian style breadcrumbs, mix with olive oil and then water so it's wet, but not mushy
Garlic salt to taste
Onion powder to taste

Mix all ingredients together and stuff away! (Joan actually smashes down on the artichokes while they are draining upside down to spread the leaves so she can really pile in the stuffing.)

Now here's her trick...in a large pot put enough water so it goes halfway up the artichoke. Add 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/3 cup of soy sauce to the water. Cover and cook on medium heat so the water isn't boiling, but steaming. Cook for about one hour, but 5 minutes before they are done, pour 1 tablespoon of lemon juice on the top of each artichoke.

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