My favourite Italian vegetable is the carciofo – artichoke. These have been eaten in Italy from ancient times and especially appreciated during the Roman period. They were then grown extensively in Sicily and Naples particularly around the 9th century.
Italians still love artichokes; they stuff them, boil, braise them, roast them in ashes, fry them and preserve them with the help of olive oil. They are used to make risotti, pasta sauces, frittate. Older artichokes are stripped of all their leaves and the tender ‘fondo’- base – is stuffed and braised or baked. Tender raw artichokes are sliced thinly and eaten raw as a salad with a dressing and in Sicily made into a caponata. Older artichokes are stripped of all their leaves and the tender ‘fondo’ (base) is stuffed and braised or baked. And the stem of artichokes, once stripped of its fibre is as appreciated.
One of my most favourite ways to eat artichokes is to stuff them with fresh breadcrumbs, grated cheese, garlic, parsley and then braise them in white wine and stock.
See recipe for Stuffed Artichokes
There are many regional and local variations for the breadcrumb stuffing all over Italy and probably the most common is the addition of anchovies. Different herbs or the addition of minced meat are also enjoyed in some regions. The stock can be water, vegetable or meat stock and /or white wine. Some also use tomatoes (peeled and chopped or blended tomatoes) as the braising liquid.
Ricotta is sometimes combined with fresh breadcrumbs and used for the stuffing and because nuts – pine nuts, almonds or pistachio – go well with ricotta I chose almond meal and some pistachios. Instead of parsley I added basil, a much sweeter herb, and finally nutmeg, a spice generally used with stuffings in the northern parts of Italy especially if ricotta or mince meat is used.2 artichokes 100 g ricotta: ½ cup of basil ½ cup fresh white breadcrumbs ½ cup almond meal ¼ cup pistachio 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 will be used for the stuffing salt and pepper and nutmeg stock and a little white wine to braise the artichokes
Clean the artichokes, see: CARCIOFI (Artichokes and how to clean them and prepare them for cooking)Trim the stalk with a small sharp knife to pull away the tough, stringy outer skin (just like the strings of celery). Keep the artichokes and the stem in acidulated water until ready to stuff. Prepare the filling by mixing together in a bowl the breadcrumbs, seasoning, herbs, nutmeg, ricotta and 2 tbs of olive oil. Drain the artichokes, remove the outer leaves of the artichokes and cut off about 2 cms of the top. Use your fingers to spread out the leaves, the stuffing will go mainly in the centre of the artichoke. There may or may not have a fuzzy choke, depending on the maturity of the plant. If there is, remove it with a teaspoon, carefully turning it without snapping the sides of the vegetable. Sprinkle a little salt between the leaves. Stuff the centre of the artichokes – I use my fingers, press the stuffing firmly into the centre. Pour the rest of the olive oil in a pan. Place the artichokes into the pan standing upright so that it can cook in an upright position (so choose your pan carefully). Add a combination of water, stock and white wine as the braising liquid (I used little wine and mainly vegetable stock). The level of the braising liquid should be about 1 cm below the top of the artichokes. Add a little salt to the braising liquid. Cover and cook artichokes over low-medium heat for about 40 mins.
See other recipes for artichokes: