If you live in the Southern hemisphere (as I do in Melbourne, Australia,) you may have noticed small artichokes for sale. Carciofi is the word for the normal sized artichokes and carciofini are the small ones. Carciofini are also the baby artichokes that never develop to full size and grow at the end of the plant’s growing season (photo of carciofi spinosi taken at Palermo Market)
These small artichokes (that never develop to full size) are considered too small to cook and are customarily preserved in oil and eaten in the non-artichoke season. I realize that this may be difficult for some of us to imagine because we appear to be able to purchase artichokes, asparagus and tomatoes all year round in Australia, but being Italian and having been brought up with respecting and celebrating local, seasonal produce, I go without. (I ask myself how far away some of this produce is coming from and how long ago was it picked.)
The carciofini are first poached and then preserved under oil. Usually I only preserve very small quantities (they get eaten very quickly), but for each kilo of artichokes,
small artichokes, 1 kilo
acidulated water – 2 lemons
For the poaching liquid
I use 4 cups of white wine vinegar, a cup of white wine and about one teaspoon of salt for the poaching liquid. They need to poach in sufficient liquid otherwise the bitter taste becomes concentrated and they could be unpleasant.
For the oil mixture:
Sufficient extra virgin oil to cover the artichokes and
1 tablespoon of whole black pepper corns, 5 bay leaves and about a tablespoon of dry oregano.
Use artichokes that look closed and firm (when the leaves start to open, the choke has started to develop and this can happen even to small artichokes if they have been left on the plant too long).
Strip back the leaves (you just want the tender heart) and kept them whole. Soak them in the water and lemon to stop them from browning.
Drain the artichokes and leave them upside down while you make up the vinegar/wine mixture. Use a stainless steel saucepan with a lid (to cover the artichokes as they cook).
Place the artichokes in the boiling mixture, cover and poach them gently in the mixture until cooked but not soft – still firm in the centre, but the outer leaves should have softened. The time for cooking varies (my last batch took 12 minutes).
Drain them of as much vinegar as possible and when cool pack them carefully into sterilised glass jars, pressing them down gently and trying to prevent as many gaps as possible. (Rather than a large jar I use smaller sized jars so as to minimise possible spoilage once opened).
Add flavours and cover with oil. To allow any trapped air to escape leave them for about 3 hours before sealing. During the resting time the level of the oil may be reduced, top with more oil and ensure they are well covered (some use an inverted small saucer on top as a weight to help keep the artichokes submerged but make sure that you sterilise the saucer).
Seal the jars and allow them to steep in the oil for at least 10 days before you eat them. Because I make small quantities and live in an apartment with little storage space, I keep them in my fridge, but they can be stored in a cool, dark place for about 6 months.
I never add fresh herbs or garlic to any preserves, as these are likely to go off, release gas and spoil the whole preserve.
When ready to use, remove the quantity of artichokes from the jar, drain them of some of the oil, add garlic slices and finely chopped parsley and a dash of lemon juice.
After each jar is opened, it is best to use the artichokes quickly. Add extra oil to the remaining artichokes to keep the contents submerged.I always keep opened jars in the fridge.