The Artichoke capital of the world is Italy and not simply because Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus (fancy Latin speak for artichoke) is consumed throughout the peninsula but because Italy produces about 487,000 metric tons of the vegetable every year (outpacing Spain, the second largest producer, by about 200,000 metric tons). Here in the United States, artichokes (primarily grown in California) are best from March to May and again in October (In Italy, the season is February through May).
Artichokes can be prepared in various ways, including:
- Braised with mint, sugar, and grated Pecorino (as they did in Roma during the Renaissance)
- Deep fried as a pizza topping
- Stuffed/filled whole with ground meat, Pecorino, parsley, and breadcrumb
- Quickly pan fried with lots of breadcrumb and, again, grated Pecorino (the latter items both being traditional Calabrian, artichoke, preparations).
The most difficult part of cooking with artichokes is preparing the vegetable and short of documenting the process with a quick video, here’s the easiest process to get an artichoke into edible form:
We start by removing the outer leaves, slowy working around the choke. We keep removing the outler leaves until we get to the tender inner choke. Remove the stem or keep depending on the recipe. Remove the deep green tough skin at the base, working around the base (like you’re peeling a pear or apple). Next, remove 2/3rd of the top leaves (this is the actual edible part); cut in half or quarters depending on the recipe. Next, the inner hair will need to be removed (it’s important to remove the hairs because they have a tendency to choke folks!). You can use a pairing knife or small spoon to scoop out the inner hair. That’s it (well, it’s actual work so the process takes some work), the artichoke is clean and ready to use (drop in a bowl of water with some lemon if you want to preserve color).
Our highlighted artichoke recipe is for stuffed artichoke and typical of some of the southern Provinces in Italy, including Calabria. For excellent instruction on how to clean whole artichokes see the hungrymouse.com We’ve seen stuffed artichokes served as a side dish but I’d recommend savoring this preparation as a first course or even appetizer.
- 3-4 large artichokes
- 1 cup of homemade breadcrumbs
- 1/4-1/2 ground beef
- Handful of black or green olives, chopped finely
- 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese
- 2-3 pieces of garlic, minced
- Handful of parsley, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon chopped capers
- Red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Begin by sauteing the ground beef in a medium sized fry pan, adding plenty of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (and set the mixture to cool after 10-12 minutes of cooking) Next, in a large bowl combine the homemade, and seasoned, bread crumbs, grated Pecorino cheese, cooled ground beef mixture, garlic, capers, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes. You’ll want to add about 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to the mixture and combine well. Next, take the stuffing and with a spoon gently place the mixture into the center of the artichokes (fill it with as much stuffing as possible. Next, place the artichokes in a baking dish and add enough water to the dish to cover the bottom halves of the artichokes. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 50-60 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degrees Fahrenheit oven. The leaves should easily pull off from the artichoke at this point. If you’d like to add some color to the artichokes you can remove the aluminum foil and set the oven to broil for a few minutes (monitoring the artichokes closely).