Sunday, 25 September 2011

Hot House Flowers

Carciofi Ripieni alla Mollica Saporita
Savory Breadcrumb-Stuffed Artichokes

Artichokes are not something that most people eat very often... unfortunately for them! Apart from being healthy, they are deliciously rich and distinctive in their flavor. Most people only know the tiny artichoke hearts sold in cans or jars, or if they ever do eat artichokes, they feel a need to dip them into something- which I have always found to be rather awful! That's not the way we do it in The Old Country! And neither is this! But it is based on a preparation from the days of the great depression...

I saw a documentary on an old Italian lady online a while ago, talking about the food she used to prepare after the war, where produce was few and far-between. She showed how she used to prepare artichokes, by loosening up the leaves and packing breadcrumbs in between. Back then, they would have maybe a little onion and garlic, a little rind from some hard cheese and some parsley if they were lucky... these would have been the flavorings, which in themselves would not taste bad even today! Those clever Italians! 

But being as I am neither depressed, nor worried about where my next meal will be coming from, I am going to show you how I made a slightly more elaborate version of that dish, with a whole lot more flavor- but still incredibly inexpensive. So here we go...

First of all, lets prepare those breadcrumbs for our filling. I used finely chopped onion, garlic, parsley, mint and sun dried tomatoes. I then grated in some lemon zest, parmesan cheese and nutmeg. To make everything a little more filling and satisfying, a little chopped bacon and to keep it moist and juicy, some sliced cherry tomatoes. Yum!  Mix everything together well and  get your water boiling in your saucepan- all we need to do now is to stuff that artichoke and we can get cooking!

There is a little prep work involved with the artichoke, but it is really simply. Cut off the stalk and a little of the base, so that you have a flat surface to rest the artichoke on. Now, trim the ends from the leaves- the tips are inedible anyway, but by cutting them off, you allow steam into the leaves which makes them cook better and faster. 
Spread the leaves out a little and then start filling the spaces in between with the breadcrumb mix- make sure to stuff the artichoke generously and to press it closed again to keep everything in. So now we are ready to steam this baby... it is going to take a while though... so be prepared!

Use a saucepan that is not much larger than the artichoke and fill it with water, up to the level of the first leaf- you don't want the breadcrumbs to be covered with water. I put a few slices of lemon into the water- this reduces any discoloration, as the artichoke will need at least an hour to cook and in the meantime could possibly lose its nice coloring. I didn't salt the water or season the filling, as the bacon and sun-dried tomatoes have enough flavor in them in my opinion. 

I would recommend a nice glass or two of Cynar whilst that beauty steams- a wonderful Sicilian aperitif- made of artichoke- rich and faintly herbal in flavor- delicious!

After an hour, take a look and see how things are looking. The artichoke is ready when you can easily pull out the leaves... if the leaf is not coming out- the thing needs to stay in!

Once it is finished, take the artichoke out of the saucepan, give it a light drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of pepper, and put it under the broiler for a minute or two, so that breadcrumbs crust-over slightly. They will be moist and bursting with all of those good flavors underneath! Yum! Pull the leaves off and scrape the fleshy part off, along with the breadcrumb mixture, with your teeth... it's a little bit messy- but it's a lot of fun! And perfect for a romantic meal... it has that aspect of "she loves me, she loves me not..." to it!

But I for one am pretty confident that YOU will love it!


  1. Just the way my grandmother used to make them! (Well, sans sun-dried tomatoes.) A great way, as you say, to stretch food but also very delicious. Funny, I don't think I have *ever* made them, having forgotten about this dish long ago, but your post brought back fond memories.

  2. Hi Frank- then it makes me doubly happy that it brings back memories as well as just being downright delicious! Glad you liked it- I did too! best regards, Francesco