Stuffed Artichoke 2-Ways, with Mint, Pepper & Peas
And once again, stuffed artichokes- one of my absolute favorite antipasti and always a treat... especially if they are stuffed, like in the "old days", with bread crumbs and herbs... delicious!
This evening though, I decided to try adding a little extra flavor and complimenting the very delicate hint of bitterness in the artichoke, with the sweetness of fresh garden peas and mild red pepper. Both of these ingredients taste wonderful with mind, as does the artichoke itself... so it was hardly surprising that the result was everything I had hoped for- and more!
The great thing about stuffing artichokes with bread crumbs, is that the crumbs soak up all of the flavors of the herbs, the filling and the artichoke itself and then hold everything in place once they are finished steaming. Alternatively, whether boiled or steamed, a lot of that good flavor ends up being washed out and poured off- and this way, you lose nothing... and gain everything! Plus, it also goes to make for a more satisfying eat in general :-)
The ingredients for 2 portions were: 1 large artichoke, 1 red pointed pepper, a couple of handfuls of fresh peas, 1 shallot, 1 lemon, parsley, mint, grated salted Ricotta cheese and bread crumbs.
Obviously, as you can see, the red pepper was simply finely diced in order to mix it in with the bread crumbs, but the peas need either to be quickly whizzed through a mixer, or as I did, pounded and squashed a little with a mortar and pestle. This helps them soften and cook more quickly and also coaxes some juices out of the peas that can then flavor the crumbs and the filling better.
Here is the pea filling prior to having the finely chopped mint and parsley added, it consists of the crushed peas, half of the shallot finely chopped, 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon of grated salted Ricotta, a little lemon zest and some black pepper. The red pepper filling is made of course in the same way ;-) just replace the peas with the pepper!
There is no need for additional salt if you use the salted Ricotta- should you use a different cheese, then season accordingly... but for a Sicilian- Ricotta is best!
Prepare the artichoke in the usual manner, peeling away the tougher, outer leaves first. One thing I have learned, is to not simply pluck the whole leaf off, but rather to snap them in half and then tug downwards, so that the bottom ends remain intact. this helps to maintain stability in the remaining artichoke and at the same time, those thick ends connecting to the bulb itself have lots of good juicy flesh connected to them when you pluck them off after steaming.
Carefully spread the leaves of the artichoke out and spoon in the bread-crumb, herb and vegetable fillings using a teaspoon- and your hands! Make sure to press the filling in a deep down as you can and make sure to fill the center of the artichokes generously.
Drizzle with plenty of lemon juice and olive oil and steam for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the artichokes... basically they are only good when the leaves easily lift away from the heart... so a little patience and trial and error are 2 good additional ingredients that you will need for this dish!