My partner who does the shopping came home with these artichokes from the Queen Victoria Market.
They were pretty big specimens and nearing the end of aritchoke growing season (when they turn woody and their fibrous chokes develop), but not having eaten artichokes for quite a while, I was excited about them.
They did prove to be quite fibrous – vecchi – Italians would say, but I did clean them as best I could, removing most of the outer leaves and really digging in to remove their chokes. I also cut more of the tops off than I usually do with younger artichokes. Although the stems were long, once I stripped off the outer fibre, I was only able to use very little of them.
Really, I should have taken off all the leaves and used only the base – fondi – Italians call them.
Artichokes can be cooked in many ways and you will find several recipes on my blog, but I particularly like them stuffed. The stuffing was easy – day old breadcrumbs, garlic, grated pecorino, parsley and a good amount of extra virgin olive oil.
Last of all, I added some toasted pinenuts and some grated lemon peel to the stuffing.
And then I stuffed the artichokes.
These are ready to cook. They are nearly submeged in stock, white wine, extra virgin olive oil and a little salt. I always add fresh bayleaves, but this time I also added thyme.
Cover and braise slowly.
And they did cook for much longer than I usually cook artichokes. After about 60 mins of cooking on a slow flame, I added chunks of potatoes and when the potatoes were nearly cooked (about 20 mins) , I added broadbeans and peas (Spring vegetables) and all cooked a further 10 – 15 minutes.
Like most Italians, I rarely do the cooking at the last minute. With braised dishes the flavours need to develop, and resting is a good thing. I cooked these in the afternoon, ready for the evening. This also gave me time to concentrate on accompanying food.
Where would we be without seasonal broadbeans!! My partner even double peeled them, something that I refuse to do.
In spite of all my fears, we chewed on the ends of the leaves and the bases (the fondi) just melted in our mouths…. They tasted pretty heavenly.
This week, Richard Cornish’s regular column is about artichokes. (September 21, Brain Food in The Age). His commentary has certainly provided me with an excess amount of food for thought – artichokes are one of my very favourite vegetables and I have written many recipes for artichokes on my blog.
I have included some recipes in this post and more can be found on my blog. In Italian artichokes are called carciofi, in Sicilian they are cacocciuli. As Richard says, artichokes are thought to have originated from Sicily, and therefore Sicilians have had plenty of time to appreciate their versatility and have come up with some excellent recipes for artichokes cooked in many interesting ways.
This is not to say that the other regions of Italy don’t have their own local recipes for artichokes, but Sicilians seem to have the lot.
Artichokes in Italy are eaten as appetizers, contorni (sides), first and second courses, and stand-alone dishes. Artichokes can be stuffed with a wide variety of fillings, fried whole or sliced, and crumbed before being fried, sautéed, boiled, baked, braised and stewed, roasted in ashes, used in frittate (plural of frittata), pasta and risotti (plural of risotto).
When they are young, they are sliced thinly and eaten raw in salads. They are canned commercially and, at the end of plant’s life, the last of the artichokes that will never mature but will stay small and underdeveloped, are conserved, mostly in olive oil. When they are old, they are stripped of all the leaves and the bases are eaten.
In his Brain Food column about artichokes Richard says that artichokes contain a compound called cynarin which inhibits your tongue’s ability to detect sweetness. You don’t notice it until you have a bite or a drink of something else: the cynarin gets washed off the tongue, and suddenly, your brain tells you that what you have in your mouth is sweet, even when it is not!
Hence Cynar, one of the many Italian bitter alcoholic drinks (of the amaro variety) and made predominantly with artichokes. Cynar is classed as a digestive and it is said to have stomach-soothing qualities and cleansing and restorative properties for the liver. It can be drunk as an apéritif or after dinner drink.
Richard mentions how Richard Purdue, executive chef at Margaret in Sydney’s Double Bay, beams when the word artichoke is mentioned. ‘‘One of my favourite dishes is one I picked up in Sicily, where the artichokes are cooked in a kind of caponata – tomatoes, celery, pine nuts, currants, red wine and sugar.’’ So to finish off here is a recipe adapted from my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking for a caponata made with artichokes.
The recipe in my book suggests using 9 -10 artichokes and I intended the amount to be for 6 -8 people. Caponata di Carciofi (Artichoke Caponata) can only be made with young artichokes. It is also worth noting that you will need to remove the outer leaves and only use the tender centre, therefore reducing the amount of artichokes significantly.
CAPUNATA DI CARCIOFFULI – Caponata Di Carciofi (Artichoke caponata)
I sauté each of the vegetable ingredients separately as is the traditional method of making caponata (as in a well-made, French dish Ratatouille). Frying the vegetables together does save time, but the colours and the flavours will not be as distinct. However, I have provided this method as a variation (see bottom of this recipe). Remove the outer, tougher leaves of the artichokes by bending them back and snapping them off the base until you come to the softer, paler leaves.
Prepare artichokes for sautéing. The artichokes need to be sliced thinly and vertically into bite size pieces. Keep them in acidulated water as you work. The cleaned stalk is one of my favourite parts of the artichoke and will add flavour to the caponata. Trim the stalk with a small sharp knife to pull away the tough, stringy outer skin (just like the strings of celery) and leave the stem attached to the artichoke. This will expose the light-coloured, centre portion, which is very flavourful and tender and much appreciated by Italians.
Drain the artichokes from the acidulated water and squeeze dry (I use a clean tea towel).
Select a large, shallow, saucepan to sauté the artichokes. They should not be crowded and if you do not have a large enough pan, sauté them in batches – you want to create as little liquid as possible.
Place some of the extra virgin olive oil in the pan and sauté the artichokes on low heat until they are tender. This may take up to 10 minutes or more depending on the freshness and age of the artichokes (add a little water or white wine if the ingredients are drying out).
Remove the artichokes and set aside.
Add a little more, extra virgin olive oil to the pan (and/or you may be able to drain some from the sautéed artichokes) and sauté the other vegetables in the same pan, separately. Proceed as follows:
Sauté the onion until it begins to colour, remove from the pan and add to the artichokes.
Add a little more extra virgin olive oil and sauté the celery.
Add the olives, capers, salt and tomatoes to the celery. Simmer gently for about 5-7 minutes. Add a little water if needed (this mixture should have the consistency of a thick sauce.)
Remove the mixture from the pan and add it to the sautéed artichokes and onions.
To make the agro dolce (sweet sour) sauce:
Add the sugar to the pan and caramelise the sugar by stirring it until it melts and begins to turn a honey colour.
Add the vinegar and swirl it around to collect the flavours of the sautéed vegetables and evaporate it (2-3 minutes).
Place all of the sautéed vegetables and artichokes into the pan with the agro dolce sauce and gently toss the ingredients, as you would do a salad.
Simmer on very gentle heat to amalgamate the flavours for about 3-5 minutes.
Placecaponata into a sealed container or jar and store in the fridge. Leave it to stand at least a day but preferably longer.
Now, for the easier version:
To make caponata, where the ingredients are not fried separately, proceed as follows:
Prepare and sauté the artichokes as in the proceeding recipe.
Add a little more extra virgin olive oil and heat it. Add the onion and the celery and sauté until they begin to colour.
Add the olives, capers, sugar, salt, vinegar and tomatoes. Cover and simmer gently until tender (5-10 minutes or more depending on the freshness and age of the artichokes).
Fresh produce is very important to me and I am fortunate to live in an apartment block very close to the Queen Victoria Market and good, fresh produce is not hard to get.
Pre-lockdown restrictions, I also shopped at various Farmers’ Markets, but this option is not available for me at the moment.
These artichokes were bought last weekend at the QVM and I was surprised by their very green colour. This variety of artichokes are local and are in season; they are different in appearance to the three other varieties I am familiar with available earlier in the season.
During the week I bought these baby artichokes. These babies are from the artichoke plant when it has reached the end of its season. The plant does not have the energy to produce the full type variety and produces these little offshoots. Usually they are used for pickling. Notice that this variety is tinged with purple, unlike the bright green variety of artichokes in the photo above.
You may ask what is the bunch of greens next to the baby artichokes? Cima di rapa (or cime di rape, plural). These are at the end of the season and I was surprised to find them in such good form.
This is what I did with the big artichokes:
Stuffed with fresh breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, garlic, parsley and extra virgin olive oil and braised in white wine, stock and extra virgin olive oil and with potatoes. I often use potatoes to hold the artichokes upright in a pan; the liquid should reach below the top of each artichoke. The potatoes are delicious as they soak up the flavours of the artichoke braising liquid.
Artichokes that are stuffed should fit tightly in a pan and in this case I have used the stems to keep the artichokes secure:
Or with potatoes once again used to keep the artichokes propped up:
And what did I do with the baby artichokes?
I braised them once again in stock, white wine and extra virgin olive oil and once cooked I used the braising liquid from the cooked artichokes in the risotto.
For the risotto:
Sauté garlic and onion in extra virgin olive oil. Add the rice and toss around in the pan till well coated. Drain the stock (braising liquid from the artichokes) from the artichokes and add it warmed -gradually and intermittently as you would for making any risotto.
Add parsley about half way through cooking. Add the artichokes and a lump of butter at the final stages and when the final absorption of stock is occurring. Do not forget, that a risotto should not be dry… present it all’onda…meaning that the finished product should ripple like waves.
Present it with grated Parmesan, if you like.
Sometimes I prefer to taste the natural flavours of the dish and grated cheese can be overpowering.
Carciofi are artichokes in Italian.
Carciofini are baby artichokes.
Recipes on my blog for artichokes are many and here are just a few:
I love globe artichokes and I usually stuff, braise them and eat them hot or cold. If peas or broad beans are in season, they too are added to the braise. A mixture of fresh breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese is probably my most frequent stuffing, but at other times I have used minced meat, or added black olives and anchovies, or for a delicate stuffing I have used ricotta and almond meal. Each globe artichoke is likely to hold about ½ cup of stuffing and some of the larger artichokes hold more.
Once stuffed, the globe artichokes are placed upright and packed tightly into a pan and braised in white wine and/or stock. Extra virgin olive oil is an essential ingredient and it is used liberally.
Small artichokes are ideal to cook alla romana – as the Romans do.
The artichokes (carciofi) that are available and that are still in season in Melbourne are these little, purple, spiny ones. The globe artichokes that were in season prior to these have nearly finished, but there are still some of the baby ones around – those that will never develop into full size (like tomatoes at the end of the season that never ripen). These baby artichokes (carciofini) are usually preserved under oil.
For carciofi alla romana, use the smallest artichokes you can find, but the small, purple, spiny ones would be my preference. In this recipe, the artichokes are also stuffed, but lightly …about a teaspoon of stuffing for each.
For the stuffing for the number of artichokes I had (9) I used 1 large clove of garlic, ½ cup fresh parsley finely chopped, ½ cup fresh mint finely chopped, salt and pepper and all mixed with a little extra, virgin olive oil.
Carciofi alla romana are also braised, but they are placed upside down and I use greater amounts of oil in the braising liquid – a mixture of water and a little white wine, but the aim is to have very little, concentrated and flavourful liquid at the end of cooking, and this will be mostly oil.
Clean and prepare the artichokes as you would the globe artichokes. Use acidulated water (1 lemon). Peel off the tough outer leaves until you get to the softer paler leaves. The stems of my artichokes were not worth peeling, but it they are peel the outer layer of the stem and as is usually the way with this recipe, keep the stems attached to the base if you can. Cut approximately 1/3 of the top of the artichoke to remove the spiny leaves. Using your fingers ease the leaves apart in the centre of each artichoke to form a space for the stuffing.
Mix the garlic, parsley, seasoning and mint together with 1 tablespoon of oil. Stuff the artichokes with this mixture.
Place about 1 cm of olive oil in the bottom of a narrow pot and arrange the artichokes close together and side by side…. but upside down. Add a little white wine and enough water to reach about 1/3 from the top of the height of the artichoke. Add salt and pepper, cover and simmer over low heat until the artichokes are soft and can be easily pierced with a fork.
Check them occasionally and if they are too dry add a little water if necessary in small amounts.
When the artichokes are cooked, remove the lid, turn up the heat and evaporate the liquid until you have mainly oil. Remove the artichokes from the pot, drizzle the liquid over them and serve them at room temperature.
There are a number of recipes on my blog about artichokes and accompanying photos. Artichokes are not difficult to prepare and cook, and they are delicious. To find other recipes, use the search button on my blog and key in Artichokes.
It is Spring in Melbourne and artichokes (carciofi) and asparagus (asparagi) season.
We do not see the numerous artichokes in large bunches with long stems that one sees all over Sicily but artichokes in the larger Australian cities have become more common and I have even seen some in supermarkets, but not necessarily fresh and crisp as they should be.
Last year I was able to buy artichokes from a grower in Werribee – not far from Melbourne.
Asparagus are everywhere in Melbourne (other places in Australia as well). Mostly they are the thin variety of asparagus sold in bunches but in the last few years the thick asparagus sold by weight are easily found. Those of you who eat out or read recipes may have noticed that more and more vegetables are presented char grilled (rather than steamed) and the large asparagus are perfect for this.
In Australia (or at least in Melbourne) we have not yet reached the wild asparagus trend (photos above and below). Wild asparagus are appreciated all over Italy.
I quite often cook asparagus and artichokes together. I have a friend who eats gluten free food so I stuffed these artichokes with almond meal, parsley, garlic and one egg (make a stiff paste). I braised the artichokes in stock and white wine and because I did not have the correct sized saucepan (I am not living in my apartment at the moment) I had to use a large saucepan.
No problems – I used whole potatoes to support the artichokes in an upright position. I then added asparagus a few minutes before I was ready to present the artichokes.
I have written many recipes for artichokes on my blog… Use the search button and type in ‘artichokes’ if you wish to find how to clean artichokes and recipes.
Stripped of their tough outer leaves artichokes are perfect for eating with just a fork and a knife. The artichokes in this photo were cooked by a friend and she braised them with beans (pulses).
I use good quality pasta and sometimes interesting shapes. Croxetti (also called corzetti or curzetti) is a traditional type of pasta from Liguria; they are in the shape of flat medallions and usually stamped with a decorative design.
Use this sauce made with Spring vegetables as a dressing for the cooked pasta.
Artichokes:strip them of their outer, tough leaves and cut vertically straight down the middle and into thin slices; each half of the artichoke can be cut into eight pieces or more. Rub the artichoke slices with a cut lemon as you work to stop it discolouring.
Strip the fibrous covering off the artichoke stalks and slice the remaining centre of the stalk into thin slices. To do this, cut off the very end of the stem and then strip the covering or use a paring knife to cut off the covering – expect the covering to be thick.
Asparagus are prolific in Spring. Once the tough bottom end of each asparagus is snapped off and discarded, slice the remaining stalks thinly as they will need more cooking than the top end of the asparagus.
Sauté the sliced artichokes and stalks in extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/2 cup of white wine and a little stock and seasoning. Cover with a lid and braise until softened. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Spring onions are always handy to add flavour and a few peas or broadbeans are excellent in Spring.
Sauté the spring onions (sliced) in some extra virgin olive oil, add the asparagus and peas (or broadbeans) and a little salt and pepper. I also add about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Toss them around in the hot pan until softened (I like to keep the vegetables a little firm). You may wish to sauté these vegetables in two stages – overcrowding the pan is not a good idea. Return the artichokes to the pan and heat through. Add a dollop of butter, a little grated nutmeg, some chopped parsley or some basil leaves .
Dress the cooked pasta with the vegetable sauce. If you wish,cut off the very end of the stem, and peel the tough outside layer of the stem with a vegetable peeler. present it with a dollop of ricotta or grated Parmisan cheese.
As a variation, and if fennel is still in season,I sometimes add sauteed thinly sliced fennel to this dish.
Artichokes are called Carciofi in Italian and there are several recipes on my blog Key in “carciofi” in search button.
There are two words for carciofi in the Sicilian dialect, cacocciuli. and carcioffuli.
The Italian word for artichoke is carciofo and carciofi is the plural. And were would Italian cooking be without artichokes?
My favourite way of cooking artichokes is the simple way that my mother has always cooked them. My maternal grandmother Maria (originally from Catania but who lived in Trieste for about 20 years) also cooked them this way. She used the same mixture to stuff sardines, tomatoes and artichokes. I researched Sicilian recipes for stuffed artichokes and found that they are all braised in the same way, but there are regional variations in the stuffing, for example in some parts of Sicily they add mint, others include eggs, some minced onion, or more cheese and even salame.
In Australia, although artichokes are now widely available, they are still thought of as exotic and possibly difficult to prepare. Exotic? Yes, maybe – for their unique taste and appearance, but once you know how to prepare them, they are simple to cook. You may need to tell your friends how to eat them (most will attempt to eat artichokes with a knife and fork).
Selecting good artichokes is important. Time and time again I have chosen not to buy artichokes as they have been picked too late (too mature). I suspect that some of the inexperienced growers may think that big is better, however this is not necessarily the case (some of the green coloured ones can be large but also tender). And as with all vegetables, I never select ones that are bruised, blemished or withered
INGREDIENTS AND PROCESS
Select and clean the artichokes carefully (as described in my previous post, Carciofi – artichokes and how to clean them). Cut the bases off flat so that they can stand up in a saucepan. Select the size of the saucepan carefully – you do not want them falling over, the artichokes should be close together. Do not forget to include the cleaned stems to add to the braise and keep the artichokes in acidulated water as you work.
I include one artichoke per person and each artichoke only needs 2-3 teaspoons of stuffing.
STUFFING: Combine the ingredients for the stuffing in a bowl. This ratio is good: 1 tablespoon of fresh breadcrumbs (made of good quality bread), 1 teaspoon of each – chopped parsley, extra virgin olive oil and grated cheese (you can use parmesan, but generally pecorino is traditionally Sicilian) and some chopped garlic to taste.
Drain the artichokes, spread the leaves (especially in the centre) and sprinkle salt and pepper in between the leaves. Push the stuffing mainly in the centre and if there is any left over, between the leaves. I use my fingers.
Arrange the artichokes standing upright in a pan, put the stems between them and drizzle well with more extra virgin olive oil. Add enough cold water to reach to about 1cm below the artichokes. Cook slowly with a lid for about an hour. Having lived in Trieste, I always add a splash of white wine and sometimes a little stock or a good quality vegetable stock cube to the poaching liquid.
If you are adding peas, broadbeans and/or potatoes just add them to the poaching liquid. The potatoes can go in at the same time, the peas and broadbeans about 15 minutes before the artichokes are cooked. ‘Those Italians’ would cook them all at the same time –they like their food overdone, but maybe they are right and there is more flavour.
I like to present carciofi as a single course – they are too fiddly to eat as an accompaniment to a main course.
Key in “artichokes” in search button for more artichoke recipes.
Last time I was in Sicily in winter I we saw masses of artichokes everywhere – in markets, growing in fields, sold by the roadside from the back of utes, in restaurants, and in the homes of relatives.
When my family first came to Australia, we used to notice that some Italians collected wild artichokes to eat (in Australia they are known as thistles). There were no artichokes for sale for at least a decade so they collected the buds and stripped off all leaves. Only the bases were stuffed or preserved in oil.
Artichokes are now more readily available in Australia and the quality seems to be getting better. I am now more able to find artichokes that feel crisp and dense, with a tightly clenched shape and petals that will snap off crisply when bent back. I have generally found that the purplish coloured ones to be more fibrous and I prefer the green coloured ones that look like roses.
Artichokes have been around for a long time. The Romans called the artichoke cynara, the Arabs al kharsciuf, (this sounds more like the Italian carciofo).
Artichokes contain a chemical called cynarin and it is said that it stimulates the production of bile. This is why artichokes are often used as the basis of digestivi (drinks that aid the digestion – a vital issue among Italians. There are those that prepare the stomach before food (aperitivi) and those drunk after a meal (amari, literally translated as ‘bitters’).
Many will be familiar with Cynar, the Italian artichoke-based alcoholic aperitivo manufactured by Campari in Milan. The are many amari manufactured all over Italy, but Averna, the amaro siciliano is a specialty from Caltanissetta (which is close to the centre of Sicily) and is a real indulgence.
Preparing artichokes for cooking
Artichokes in Sicily are sold with long stalks often up to 1 metre in length – do not ever discard the stalks. The stalks are particularly wonderful in risotti (plural of risotto) and braises made with artichoke. Trim the stalk with a small sharp knife to pull away the tough, stringy outer skin (just like the strings of celery) and leave the stem attached to the artichoke. This will expose the light-coloured, centre portion, which is very flavourful and tender and much appreciated by Italians.
When trimming, to prevent discolouration, squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a big bowl of water and keep cleaned artichokes submerged in the mixture. This is referred to as acidulated water. Drain the artichokes by inverting them upside down for about 5 minutes when ready to stuff or cook. Alternatively rub the surfaces with a lemon.
Preparing artichokes for stuffing
Remove the stalk so that the artichoke will sit on its base in the saucepan. Clean the stalk and pull the tough outside leaves off the base one by one until you have reached the paler less fibrous centre. Then trim about 1cm across the top. Keep them in acidulated water as you work.
Turn the artichoke upside down and bang it on a hard surface and then gently ease the leaves apart to expose the heart. If you place the artichokes in warm water you will be able to ease apart the leaves more easily. I start by easing the outer leaves and working my way to the centre.
There may or may not have a fuzzy choke (it depends on the maturity of the plant). If there is, remove the choke with a teaspoon, inserting it into the centre and carefully turning it without snapping the sides of the choke.
Preparing the base of the artichoke
Those of you who have travelled to Italy would be familiar with the spectacle of men and women preparing artichokes at vegetable markets. They sit with their mound of artichokes, skilfully paring off all the leaves with very sharp kitchen knives.
(Photos of cleaned artichokes taken in the Campo dei Fiori market in December 2009, when I was last in Rome).
These are called fondi di carciofi – they are the bases of mature artichokes. The fondi can be stuffed, braised, sautéed, added to frittata – their intense flavour and meaty texture are a definite taste sensation.
At the end of the season, when the artichokes are large and past their prime, they are trimmed even further. In Australia, we have to do this ourselves. Pare off the leaves of a mature artichoke and just leave the base (no leaves) – it will look like a very shallow cup. The texture of the base will be covered with a pattern of small dots much like the eyes of flies (like a fine etching, delicate and quite beautiful).