Whoever first looked at a spiny orb at the end of a fibrous stem protruding from a large plant with pronged leaves as sharp as sabers and thought, "Yum, I'm gonna have me some of that" must have been very hungry indeed. By now, we of course have conquered the artichoke, learned how to tame its talons and soften its hard flesh.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to go to the Pebble Beach Food & Wine event for the afternoon. At the Grand Tasting, I nibbled on offerings from a variety of high-profile chefs. Not everything was great, but highlights included Hosea Rosenberg's seared beef tenderloin with ancho sauce on some delicious cheesy grits; a delightfully balanced canapé of pate, foie, crisp-fried lotus root and some kind of sweet relish from Hudson Valley Foie Gras; and a too-small but still memorable bite of crispy lamb's tongue from Seattle's Tom Douglas.
On the drive home, I passed through Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world, where 75% of the US supply of artichokes are grown. Driving alongside fields with rows and rows of shaggy thickets with green globes popping up, the siren song was too strong, and I pulled over at The Thistle Hut to buy some. There, for a mere dollar, I picked up three mighty, head-sized round buds with a good two inches of stalk still attached.
A few years ago, I wrote about my mother's stuffed artichokes, which is pretty much the only way I had ever had them until I moved to California in my 20s. When it comes to big globes like these, it's still my preferred way to eat them. However, the recipe is no longer in step with the way we stock our pantry. We don't have store-bought bread crumbs, for example, nor garlic salt, nor parm in a can. But these are all convenience ingredients, and the inconvenience in recreating them from fresh ingredients is, in my opinion, negligible. And hence today I present my updated version.
I made one other adaptation. My mother always makes these for special occasions, and therefore in large quantities. I had just three chokes, so instead of using a big roasting pan, I used my largest enamelized Dutch oven. Making them in smaller quantity and in a better-sealed cooking vessel had two effects: It shortened the overall cooking time, and created more of a steam oven. The leaves were less wizened, but the bread crumbs still crisped nicely on top.
When the chokes are in and plentiful, there's no reason to save this for a special occasion. We normally ate them after the main meal on a holiday, just before or sometimes alongside dessert. I enjoyed these three as three consecutive days of lunch; I also think they'd make a pleasant surprise as a brunch entrée. They're fine warm or room temperature, but I like them best cold, right from the fridge, especially when you finally reach the ultimate quarry, the cool, creamy heart.
If you'd like more of a blow-by-blow pictorial with some rock-star hand modeling by my mother, check out my earlier post.
4 large globe artichokes
2 c. fresh bread crumbs (I blitzed 3 slices of multigrain in the food processor)
1/2 c. grated parmigiano
1/4 c. dry oregano
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Fill a large bowl halfway with water. Slice a lemon in half, squeeze the juice into the bowl, and drop the lemon halves in.
In another large bowl, add the bread crumbs, parm, oregano, garlic, two good pinches of salt and a fair amount of fresh pepper; I also added a few shakes of Aleppo pepper, because I'm just that way. Mix ingredients to combine.
Slice off the stem so the bottom of the choke is flush; place the stems in the lemon water. Trim away the outer leaves by pulling them back until they snap and pulling back to peel away the skin. Do this for any leaves that do not go above the halfway point of the choke. With a paring knife, trim away the stubs of the trimmed leaves. With a large chef's or serrated knife, trim off the top 1/2" or so of the choke. With a pair of sharp scissors, trim off any remaining spiny leaf tops. Place the choke in the lemon water, and roll it around to make sure all surfaces come in contact to prevent discoloration.
Remove the stems from the water, cut off the dry end, peel, and chop finely. Add chopped stems to the bread crumb mixture.
Remove the chokes from the water, and drain them upside down for a moment. For each choke, gently pull the leaves outward to create as many stuffable crevices as possible. Holding the choke over the bowl of bread crumbs, take handfuls of the mixture and gently pack it into the gaps between the leaves. Do not cram it in; just fill all the spaces you find. Place the choke upright in a large Dutch oven or other covered baking dish big enough to accommodate. Repeat for the remaining chokes.
Throw a couple big pinches of salt in the bottom of the pan and add enough water to cover about 1". Slosh a good amount of olive oil over the chokes, enough to cover all the breadcrumbs. Baste the crumbs with water from the pan as well. Cover, and place in the hot oven.
At about 90 minutes, check your artichokes. Baste them once more with the water in the pan. Gently pull one of the outer leaves; if it comes out easily, they are done. If not, return to the oven and continue checking every 15-20 minutes.
Serve as is, warm, room temperature or cold. Eat with your fingers.
To make this gluten-free, replace the standard bread crumbs with gluten-free corn bread crumbs.
Susan of Food Blogga loves her mom's stuffed artichokes, too.
The aptly named Artichoke Heart's Christina's mom's recipe is a dead ringer for my mother's.
Alanna at Veggie Venture kicks hers up a notch with bacon and cheese!