Spring has sprung in Sydney and in my family that means artichokes. Stuffed. In a good way.
These are the ultimate finger food. Knife and fork redundant. Stuffed artichokes let adults play with their food again. Kids are allowed to eat with their hands. All food inhibitions and table etiquette lost in the devouring of these. And often, complete silence at the table, as diners immerse themselves in the extraction of every last bit of fleshy goodness from each artichoke leaf.
There is an art in eating a stuffed artichoke. First, you take an individual leaf, complete with stuffing, and hold it in your fingers. Use the leaf as a kind of spoon to pop the stuffing into your mouth. Next, place the remaining leaf flat between your teeth and pull it out of your mouth using two hands, scraping the soft flesh of the leaf with your front teeth. Be sure to scrape the leaf in this way until all the edible, velvety flesh has come away from the internal surface. You will be left with the hard, stringy leaves forming a tidy pile on a plate next to you. Start from the outer leaves, working your way around the artichoke until you come to the soft, tender heart, These leaves can be eaten whole, no scraping required. If you have a very tender artichoke, the hairy choke in the centre can actually be eaten as well.
There really is no waste with this recipe. The hairy choke is not removed and the stalks are also cooked and eaten with the sauce. There is only very minimal trimming of the artichoke in its preparation. Once the artichokes are stuffed they greatly increase in size so be sure to use a large enough pan to fit them comfortably. One stuffed artichoke is a meal in itself. Serve it as the main course, one per person. Alternatively, cut the cooked artichokes into halves or quarters for a smaller serve.
The artichokes in these photos were prepared by my mum, who kindly also posed as hand model. A big thank you to my mum for taking the time to cook this dish for my blog, and for putting up with me taking photos and transcribing the recipe.
Stuffed Artichokes – Carciofi Ripieni
Preparation Time: About 1 hour
Cooking Time: About 1 hour
Serves: 4 as a main meal
4 Globe artichokes with stems
For the stuffing
6 cups fresh breadcrumbs (see Tips), tightly packed
3-4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
3 heaped teaspoons grated Pecorino cheese
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Extra Virgin olive oil, as required
Salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce
3-4 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
200 grams tinned chopped tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes diced, or passata
Salt and pepper to taste
Water, as required
Prepare the artichokes
Prepare the artichokes by cutting the stem off at the base of the artichoke head. Reserve the stems.
Remove any untidy leaves from the base of the artichoke head.
Trim the top of the artichoke by cutting across the head about 1-2 centimetres from the top. This removes the tips and leaves a flat surface at the top of the artichoke. A tender artichoke will be easy to cut, a tough one more difficult.
Place the trimmed head into a bowl of water to prevent the cut surfaces browning.
(Click on the images above to see a gallery view.)
Repeat with the remaining artichokes.
Peel the stems thickly to remove the fibrous outer layer. (The remaining stem will still be fibrous but will become soft with cooking.)
Chop the stems across into 5mm discs and place these into the water bowl. These will be used for the sauce. Again, a tender artichoke should be easy to cut.
Prepare the stuffing
In a large bowl place breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, cheese, salt and pepper. Mix well with your clean hands to combine.
Add enough olive oil to moisten the crumbs (about 1-2 tablespoons) and mix well to distribute the oil evenly.
Add the egg and mix well with your hands to distribute evenly.
The filling should be moist (not wet) and crumbly.
Fill the artichokes
Remove one artichoke head from the water and drain well.
Beginning from the outer leaves at the base, push one leaf gently outwards and loosely place filling inside. Press lightly into the leaf to keep the filling in place. Use about ½ to ¾ of a teaspoon of filling per leaf, depending on the size of the leaf. Do not overfill as the stuffing expands with cooking.
Continue in this way, gently opening, filling and pressing each leaf, as you work your way around the artichoke.
As you get closer to the centre the leaves become more tightly packed. Stop filling when you can’t easily open the leaf. This will leave the heart of the artichoke without filling. The more tender the artichoke, the more leaves you will be able to fill.
Repeat with the remaining artichokes. Set aside as you prepare the sauce.
Cooking the artichokes
To prepare the sauce, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep frying pan or saucepan with a lid.
Add the garlic and gently sauté until it is warm (about 1 minute) being careful not to burn it.
Remove the chopped artichoke stalks from the water and drain well. Add to the pan, increasing the heat to medium high and sauté gently for 3-4 minutes, adding a pinch of salt. Stir often to ensure they do not burn.
Add the tomatoes with another pinch of salt and simmer for about 5 minutes.
As the tomatoes dry out add about ½ cup of water and continue to simmer for a few more minutes. This allows the flavours to blend.
Add another cup of water and bring to the boil. Taste and adjust for salt.
Add the artichokes to the pan, cut side up, spooning some of the sauce over the top to moisten the crumbs and add some colour.
Add more water to the pan if necessary, so it comes no more than half way up the sides of the artichokes.
Return to the boil and cover the pan.
Simmer over low heat for approximately 1 hour, ensuring the juices do not dry out (though they will thicken slightly).
To test if they are cooked, remove an outer leaf and taste. The flesh should be soft and easily removed from the leaf.
Allow to cool slightly in the pan. The juices will absorb into the artichokes as they cool.
Serve warm drizzled with any remaining pan juices.