Tag Archives: How to cook artichokes

ARTICHOKES and how we love them – CAPONATA DI CARCIOFI

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.

Artichokes in Acireale Sicily

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.

CARCIOFINI SOTT’ OLIO (Preserved artichokes in oil) 

It is spring in Australia now and the very best time to celebrate artichokes when they can be combined with other spring produce such as broad beans, peas, asparagus and potatoes.

A couple of recipes in my blog make a special feature of spring flavours:

A QUICK PASTA DISH for Spring: asparagus, artichokes, peas

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

ASPARAGUS and ARTICHOKES PASTA ALLA FAVORITA (Pasta with artichokes, broad beans, peas alla favorita)

FRITTEDDA (A sauté of spring vegetables)

Different varieties of artichokes are also available in autumn, but somehow pairing them with spring seasonal produce, deserves extra applause.

CARCIOFI (Artichokes and how to clean them and prepare them for cooking) 

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.

BITTER GREENS and AMARI (Aperitivi and Digestivi)

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.
  • Place caponata 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).

CARCIOFI FARCITI (Stuffed artichokes: with meat and with olives and anchovies)

Stuffed artichokes, I can’t get enough of them.

Carciofi  are artichokes; farciti, imbottiti and ripieni all mean STUFFED in Italian.

If you are invited at my place for dinner during artichoke season it is very likely that one of the courses will be stuffed artichokes.

I braise stuffed artichokes in stock and white wine and all the stuffings  have a proportion of breadcrumbs (1- 2day old good quality bread).

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There are two  other recipes on other posts for stuffed artichokes:

Two lots of friends last week, two lots of artichokes and two more recipes. Although I braised the artichokes in stock and white wine, tomato pulp (canned or passata) are an option and would compliment the flavours of the following stuffings.

The cooking time will depend on the type and maturity of the artichokes. Sometimes I have found that they take 40 minutes and at other times almost double the time. To test if the artichokes are cooked, pull on one of the outside leaves – it should detach easily.

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.

 

STUFFED WITH MINCE MEAT

2 medium – large artichokes
stock/ white wine/water/tomato pulp
bay leaves
 
Stuffing:
1 egg
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup of good quality lean ground beef
1tbs parsley, cut finely
1 garlic clove, chopped
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for the stuffing and ½ cup to cook the artichokes
½ cup pine nuts
ground nutmeg; I also added a bit of cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the stuffing: Place all of the ingredients together in a bowl and combine them with your fingers. The mixture is the same as when making meatballs.
 

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 (water and lemon or water and a little white vinegar) until ready to stuff.
Drain the artichokes, remove the outer leaves of the artichokes and cut off the top. Use your fingers to spread out the leaves; the stuffing will go mainly in the centre of the artichoke. 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 and heat it. 
Place the artichokes upside down into the hot oil – this will brown the meat stuffing.
Turn the artichokes the right way up i.e. standing upright so that they can cook in an upright position (choose your pan carefully).
Add braising liquid. 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 50- 80 mins. The cooking time will depend on the type and maturity of the artichokes.

 

VARIATION

Peas can be added during the braising – add these about 20 minutes before the cooking is finished.

photo

STUFFED WITH BLACK OLIVES AND ANCHOVIES AND A CUBE OF CHEESE

Cheese: I used pecorino fresco but a sharper cheese like provolone or mature pecorino or parmigiano would also be suitable.

Artichokes with olives, parsley & cheese 2

2 medium – large artichokes
stock/ white wine/water/tomato pulp
2 cubes of cheese
 

 (In  the photo above, the artichokes are ready to be cooked.)

Stuffing

1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tbs of one herb: parsley or fresh oregano or mint, cut finely
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for the stuffing and ½ cup to cook the artichokes
½ cup stoned black olives
¼ cup chopped anchovies

 

Prepare the stuffing: Place the breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs and the drizzle of oil in a bowl. Combine them with your fingers. Add the olives and anchovies and mix them through lightly. (I do not use extra salt – I find that the salt in the olives, anchovies and cheese is sufficient.)
 

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 (water and lemon or water and a little white vinegar) until ready to stuff.
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 choke.
Drain the artichokes, remove the outer leaves of the artichokes and cut off the top. Use your fingers to spread out the leaves; the stuffing will go mainly in the centre of the artichoke. Sprinkle a little salt between the leaves.
Stuff the centre of the artichokes – I use my fingers; press the stuffing firmly into the centre.
Press one cube of cheese into the centre the stuffing so that it is covered.
Place the rest of the oil in the pan and arrange the artichokes standing upright so that they can cook in an upright position (choose your pan carefully).
Add braising liquid. 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 50- 70 mins. The cooking time will depend on the type and maturity of the artichokes.
Present with cooking liquid around them.
 
 

 photo

 

 

 

STUFFED ARTICHOKES WITH RICOTTA AND ALMOND MEAL

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.

carciofi-stall_0036-crop

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.

Carciofi heads

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.

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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:

CARCIOFI (Artichokes)

CARCIOFINI SOTT’ OLIO (Preserved artichokes in oil)

PASTA ALLA FAVURITA (Pasta with artichokes, broadbeans, peas alla favorita)

Artichokes-1a-blog-259x300

CARCIOFI IMBOTTITI (Stuffed artichokes)

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?

photo 2

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).

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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.

Carciofi hero

INGREDIENTS

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.

Fabulous!!

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