Sunday, 16 February 2014

Get Packing!

Carciofo Ripieno al Cartoccio
Oven-Baked, Stuffed Artichoke

Everybody loves unwrapping parcels- especially when there is something wonderful inside. Well, let me tell you- what was inside of this particular parcel,  was indeed pretty wonderful! And totally delicious! As you can plainly see!

I have always loved stuffed artichokes, a classic of "la cucina povera", dating back to the days of The Great Depression and most probably beyond. Because they taste great, because they are actually quite filling, because they are un-pretentious and do not get dipped into any preposterous liquid and most of all, because they make an artichoke into a star in its own right, rather than never letting it ascend past the  level of being "best supporting role" at a more up-scale dinner. ;-)

To me and to most Italians, French, Spanish or Greeks I would imagine, artichokes, as wonderful as they may be, are "just one more vegetable" to be cooked and eaten and enjoyed- they are not some wildly exotic ingredient to try to impress your friends with at a dinner party and to dip in mayonnaise or aioli or something else that is even richer or more greasy tasting- ugh! As you may have noticed... that is not the way I like to enjoy my artichokes! lol! 

As usual, I prefer a natural and healthy preparation and I like to add flavors that enhance and elevate the already wonderful and distinctive flavor of the artichoke itself, rather than just boil it and dip it... life is too short to be so boring!

And said ingredients need not be exotic, exclusive or expensive, as you can see. To prepare this lovely artichoke, I added an onion, a lemon, 3-4 sun-dried tomatoes, 5-6 tablespoons of bread crumbs, some fresh mint and some fresh parsley... all things that are artichokes best friends!

To make the filling, I finely chopped the onion, sun dried tomatoes, the mint and the parsley and stirred everything together into the bread crumbs. I added a few thinly sliced strips of lemon peel and added them too, along with salt and pepper to season. LIke I said- nothing to fancy is necessary here, as Mother Nature has given all of these ingredients great flavors that love to hang out together. Seriously- it's true!

As soon as the filling was done, I turned on the oven, right to the highest setting, to get it ready and then got busy preparing the artichoke in the usual manner- topping and tailing it, removing the outermost leaves and quickly rubbing the cut surfaces in lemon to prevent them from turning brown.

Make sure to trim the stalk-end nicely as this is the juiciest, most delicious part... basically, what you are looking at here is the rear view of the heart of the artichoke. So- handle with care! Show it a little love and give it a nice coat of lemon juice before we get busy doing the fun stuff with it!

Starting on the outside and working your way in, spread the leaves open and generously spoon the bread crumb mix inside. Keep on going, onwards and ever onwards, from the outside-in as far as you can go- it's easier than you think!

The next step is to pull off a length of aluminum foil that will be large enough to wrap your artichoke up in and to lay it out on top of a small oven dish. Put a slice or two of lemon into the foil and then set the artichoke on top- this will help to keep it sticking to the foil, from turning too dark and will of course also add good flavor.

Now carefully pour boiling water over the artichoke, gently trickling it all over so that it soaks into the bread crumbs- don't be afraid, pour plenty over it as this is what is then going to turn to steam and to cook your artichoke when it is in the oven. Once the artichoke and bread crumbs are nicely moist, add a good trickle of olive oil on top, a little salt and pepper and then cover the top of the artichoke with  2-3 more slices of lemon. This will prevent steam from escaping so easily and will also give good flavor... which is good as you must be getting a little hungry by now...

After wrapping the artichoke up nice and tightly, it disappeared into a piping-hot oven for the next 40-45 minutes at 350°F. Things will seem ok for the first 20 minutes or so, but a little while later, after 30 minutes or so, it did indeed begin to start smelling really great. Yes, I mean really great!

40 minutes later, when I opened the parcel, I was greeted by blast of steam and a wonderful aroma! As you can see, the lemons had done their job wonderfully and had begun to caramelize gently... the fragrance was terrific!

The artichoke was nice and tender of course by now and the filling was moist and delicious with the flavors of the herbs and the sun dried tomatoes. And that would have been fine as it was. But me, being "me"- I took away the lemon slices and popped the artichoke back in the oven, so that the top layer would crust over and become even more delicious.

Can you see the difference? I hope so- because if you make this for yourselves at some point you will definitely not want to miss out on the crispiness... well, at least I wouldn't want to!

And that was it- my little experiment, baking an artichoke in the oven! Yep- it worked! And of course, if you are planning a party and need more than just one of these things, loading the oven up will make it all more worthwhile! The big advantage is that the artichoke does not lose all of its flavor into the water it would have otherwise been boiled or steamed in- nope- you get to enjoy it all!

And speaking of flavor- there is all is, trapped in that juicy layer of stuffing that sticks so nicely to each leaf! Dipping, indeed! There is so much more flavor and good eating here! The best thing of all though, with artichoke, is that the more you work your way from the outside-in, the more tender and sweeter and delicious those leaves become... about halfway in you will discover that the leaves are more or less completely edible... terrific! 

But the best gets saved till last of course... the heart... sweet, tender, unadulterated and delicious! Happy eating my friends- I really hope you give this a try and see why I loved it so much!

No comments:

Post a Comment